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Full text of "The utility and importance of creeds and confessions: an introductory lecture, delivered at the opening of the summer session of the theological seminary of the Presbyterian Church, Princeton, July 2, 1824. .."

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70— J 


^o S- 









JULY 2, 1824. 


Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government in the 
said Seminary. 


PRIirCETOir, IT. J. 






1 S24. 


M a meeting of the Students of the Theological 
Seminary, held this afternoon, it tvas, on motion, unani- 


<« That a Committee he appointed to request 
of Dr. Miller a copy of his introductory lecture upon 
CREEDS AND CONFESSIONS, delivered this morning, for pub- 

In making this request, the Students would not 
ivish to he considered as expressing any opinion upon the 
merits of the general question ; hut as influenced solely by 
the desire that the whole subject may come fairly before the 

JVith sentiments of high esteem. 

We remain 

Respectfully yonrs^ 



danl, a. pemck, v committee: 


l^rinieton, '} 
July '2, 1824.5 

llcv. Dr. Miller. 





The character and situation of one who is pre- 
paring for the Sacred Office, are interesting bejond 
the power of language to express. Such an one, like 
the Master whom he professes to love and serve, 
is " set for the fall and rising again of many in Is- 
rael." In all that he is, and in all that he does, the 
temporal and eternal welfare, not only of him- 
self, but of thousands may be involved. On every 
side he is beset with perils. Whatever may be his 
talents and learning, if he have not genuine piety, 
he will probably be a curse instead of a blessing to 
the Church. But this is not the only danger to 
which he is exposed. He may have unfeigned 
piety, as well as talents and learning ; and yet, 
from habitual indiscretion ; from a defect in that 
sobriety of mind, which is so precious to all men, 
but especially to every one who occupies a public 
station; from a fondness for novelty and innovation, 
or from that love of distinction which is so nat- 
ural to men;— after all, instead of edifying the "body 
of Christ," he may become a disturber of its peace, 

and a corrupter of its purity; so that we might 
almost say, whatever may be the result with respect 
to himself, — "it had been good for the church if 
he had never been born." 

Hence it is, that every part of the character of him 
who is coming forward to the holy ministry ; his 
opinions ; his temper ; his attainments ; his infirmi- 
ties; and above all, his character as a practical christ- 
ian ; — are of inestimable importance to the ecclesi- 
astical community of which he is destined to be a 
minister. Nothing that pertains to him is uninte- 
resting. If it were possible for him, strictly speaking, 
to "live to himself," or to "die to himself," the case 
would be different. But it is not possible. His de- 
fects as well as his excellencies ; his gifts and graces, 
as w^ell as the weak points of his character, must and 
will all have their appropriate effect on every thing 
that he touches. Can you wonder, then, that, em- 
ployed to conduct the education of candidates for 
this high and holy office, we feel ourselves placed 
under a solemn, nay, an awful responsibility? Can 
j^ou woniler that, having advanced a little before 
you in our experience in relation to this office, we 
cherish the 'deepest solicitude at every step you 
take? Can you wonder, that we daily exhort you 
to "take heed to yourselves and your doctrine;" 
and that we cease not to entreat you, and to pray 
for you, that you give all diligence to approve your- 
selves to God and his church able and faithful ser- 
vants? Independently of all official obligation, did 
we not feel aijd act thus, we should manifest an 
insensibility to tl>e interests of the church, as 

W€ll as to your true welfare, equally inexcusable 
and degrading. 

It is in consequence of this deep solicitude for 
your improvement in every kind of njinisterial fur- 
niture, that we not only endeavour to conduct 
the regular course of your instruction in such a 
manner as we think best adapted to promote the 
great end of all your studies; but that we also 
seize the opportunity which the general Lecture, 
introductory to each session affords us, of calling 
your attention to a series of subjects, which do not 
fall within the ordinary course of our instruction. 

A subject of this nature will engage our atten- 
tion on the present occasion : namely, the import- 
ance OF Creeds and Confessions for maintain- 


This is a subject, which, though it properly be- 
longs to the department of Church Government, has 
always been, for want of time, omitted in the Lec- 
tures, usually delivered on that division of our stu- 
dies. And I am induced now to call your attention 
to it, because, as I said, it properly belongs to the 
department committed to me ; because it is in itself 
a subject highly interesting and important; because 
it has been for a number of years past, and still is, the 
object of much severe animadversion, on the part 
of latitudinarians and heretics; and because, though 
abundantly justified by reason, scripture, and univer- 
sal experience, the spontaneous feelings of many, 
especially under the free government, which it is 
our happiness to enjoy, rise up in arms against what 



they deem, and are sometimes pleased to call, the 
excessive '"'rigour''' and even ^^tyrannif\ of exacting 
subscription to Articles of faith. 

It is my design, ^/\s^, to offer some remarks on 


and secondly, to obviate some of the more common 
and plausible Objections which have been urged 
against them by their adversaries. 
; I. By a Creed, or Confession of Faith, I 
mean, an exhibition, in human language, of those 
great doctrines which are believed by the framers of 
it to be taught in the Holy Scriptures; and which 
are drawn out in regular order, for the purpose of 
ascertaining how far those who wish to unite in 
church fellowship are really agreed in the fund- 
amental principles of Christianity. Creeds and 
Confessions do not claim to be in themselves laivs 
of Christ's house, or legislative enactments, by which 
any set of opinions are constituted truths, and which 
require, on that account, to be received as truths 
among; the members of his family. They only pro- 
fess to be summaries, extracted from the Scriptures, 
of a few of those great gospel doctrines, which 
are taught by Christ himself; and which those who 
make the summary in each particular case, concur in 
deeming important, and agree to make the test of their 
religious union. They have no idea that, in forming 
this summary, they make any thing truth that was 
not truth before ; or that they thereby contract an 
obligation to believe, what they were not bound by 
the authority of Christ to believe before. But 
they simply consider it as a list of the leading truths 

which the Bible teaches, which of course, all men 
ought to believe, because the Bible does teach them ; 
and which a certain portion of the visible church ca- 
tholic agree in considering as a formula by means 
of which they may know and understand one an- 

Now I affirm, that the adoption^'^uch a Creed 
is not only lawful and expedient, but also indispen- 
sably necessary to the harmony and purity of the 
visible church. For the establishment of this po- 
sition, let me request your attention to the follow- 
ing considerations. 

1. Without a Creed explicitly adopted, it is 
not easy to see how the ministeeis and members 


If every christian were a mere insulated individ- 
ual, who inquired, felt and acted for himself alone, 
no Creed of human formation would be necessary for 
his advancement in knowledge, comfort or holiness. 
With the Bible in his closet, and with his eyes opened 
to see the " wondrous things" which it contains, he 
would have all that was needful for his edification. 
But the case is far otherwise. The church is a so- 
ciety ; a society which, however extended, is "one 
body in Christ," and all who compose it, "mem- 
bers one of another." Nor is this society merely 
required to be one in name, or to recognize a mere 
theoretical union ; but also carefully to maintain 
"the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." 
They are exhorted to "stand fast in one spirit with 


one mind." They are commanded all to " speak 
the same thing," and to be " of one accord, of one 
mind." And this " unity of spirit" is as essential 
to the comfort and edification of those who are 
joined together in church-fellowship, as it is to a 
compliance with the command of their Master. 
"How can •au^ walk together unless they be 
agreed?" Can a body of worshippers, composed of 
Calvinists, Arminians, Pelagians, Arians, and So- 
cinians, all pray, and preach, and commune together 
profitably and comfortably, each retaining the senti- 
ments, feelings, and language appropriate to his de- 
nomination? This would be indeed to make the house 
of God a miserable Babel. What ! can those who 
believe the Lord Jesus Christ to be God, equal 
wath the Father, and worship him accordingly; 
— and those who consider all such worship as 
abominable idolatry: — Those who cordially re- 
nounce all dependence on their own works or 
merit for justification before God, relying entirely 
on his rich grace, " through the redemption that 
is in Christ Jesus;" — and those who pronounce 
all such reliance fanatical, and man's own righteous- 
ness the sole ground of hope : — Can persons who 
cherish these irreconcilably opposite sentiments and 
feelings on the most important of all subjects, unite 
with edification in the same prayers, listen from 
sabbath to sabbath to the same instructions, and 
sit together in comfort at the same sacramental 
table? As well might Jews and christians wor- 
ship together in the same temple. They must 
either be perfectly indifferent to the great subjects 


on which they are thus divided, or all their inter- 
course must be productive of jarring and distress. 
Such a discordant assembly might talk about church- 
fellowship ; but that they should really enjoy that 
fellowship, which the Bible describes as so precious, 
and which the pious so much delight to cultivate, 
is impossible ; — -just as impossible as that " right- 
eousness should have fellowship with unrighteous- 
ness," or "light hold communion with darkness, or /^ 
Christ maintain concord with Belial." / 

Holding these things to be self-evident, how, '^- 
I ask, is any church to guard itself from that baleful 
discord, that perpetual strife of feeling, if not of 
words and conduct, which must ensue, when it is 
made up of such heterogeneous materials? Nay, 
how is a church to avoid the guilt of harbouring 
in its bosom, and of countenancing by its fellowship 
the worst heresies that ever disgraced the christian 
name ? It is not enough for attaining this object, that 
all who are admitted profess to agree in receiving 
the Bible; for many who call themselves christians, 
and profess to take the Bible for their guide, hold 
opinions, and speak a language as foreign, nay 
as opposite, to the opinions and language of many 
others, who equally claim to be christians, and equal- 
ly profess to receive the Bible, as the east is to 
the west. Of those who agree in this general profes- 
sion, the greater part acknowledge as of divine 
authority, the whole sacred canon, as we jiow re- 
receive it; while others w^ould throw out whole 
chapters, and some a number of entire books 
4xQm the volume of God's revealed will. The Or- 


, 12 


thodox maintain the plenary inspiration of the 
scriptures; while some who insist that they are 
christians, deny their insj)iration altogether. In 
short, thefe are multitudes who, professing to believe 
the Bible, and to take it for their guide, reject every 
fundamental doctrine which it contains. So it was 
in the beginning as well as now. An inspired 
Apostle declares, that some in Ihis day, who not 
only professed to believe the scriptures, but even 
to " preach Christ," did really preach " another 
gospel," the teachers of which he charges those 
to whom he wrote to hold " accursed ;" and he 
assures them that there are some " heresies" so 
deep and radical that they are to be accounted 
"damnable." Surely those who maintain the true 
gospel, cannot " walk together" in " church fel- 
lowship" with those who are " accursed" for preach- 
ing " another gospel," and who espouse " damn- 
able heresies," the advocates of which the disciples 
of Christ are not permitted even to " receive into 
their houses," or to "bid God speed!" How, 
then, I ask again, are the members of a Church, 
to take care that they be, according to" the divine 
command, " of one mind," and " of one way ?" 
They may require all who enter their communion 
to profess a belief in the Bible ; nay they may re- 
quire this profession to be repeated every day, and 
yet may be corrupted and divided by every form of 
the grossest error. Such a profession, it is manifest, 
ascertains no agreement; is a bond of no real union ; 
a pledge of no spiritual fellowship. It leaves every 
thing within the range of nominal Christianity, ag 


perfectly undefined, and as much exposed to total 
discord as before. 

But perhaps it will be proposed as a more ef- 
ficient remedy, that there be a private understand- 
ing, vigilantly acted upon, that no ministers or mem- 
bers be admitted, but those who are known, by 
private conversation with them, substantially to agree 
with the original body, with regard both to doctrine 
and order. In this way, some allege, discord may 
be banished, and a church kept pure and peaceful, 
without an odious array of Creeds and Confessions. 
To this proposal, I answer, in the first place, it is 
to all intents and purposes, exhibiting a Creed, and 
requiring subscription to it, while the contrary is 
insinuated and professed. It is making use of a 
religious test, in the most rigourous manner, with- 
out having the honesty or the manliness to avow it. 
For what matter is it, as to the real spirit of the 
proceeding, whether the Creed be reduced to writ- 
ing, or be registered only in the minds of the church 
members, and applied by them as a body, if it 
equally exclude applicants who are not approved ? 

But to this proposed remedy, I answer, in the 

second place, the question, what is soundness in the 
faith ,^^ however explicitly agreed upon by the mem- 
bers of the church among themselves, cannot be 
safely left to the understanding and recollection of 
each individual belonging to the body in question. 
As well might the civil Constitution of a State, 
instead of being committed to writing, be left to the 
vague and ever varying impressions of the individual // 
citizens who live under it. In such a Constitution, ^■' 


every one sees, there could be neither certainty nor 
stability. Scarcely any two retailers of its articles 
would perfectly agree ; and the same persons would 
expound it differently at different times, as their 
interests or their passions might happen to bear 
sway. Quite as unreasonable, and unsafe, to say 
the least, would it be to leave the instrument of a 
church's fellowship on a similar footing. Such a 
nuncupative Creed, when most needed as a means 
of quieting disturbances, or of excluding corruption, 
would be rendered doubtful, and, of course, useless, 
by having its most important provisions called in 
question on every side. A case in which, if it were 
^nade operative at all, it would be far more likely to 
be perverted into an instrument of popular oppres- 
sion, than to be employed as a means of sober and 
wholesome government. 

The inference, then, plainly is, that no church 
can hope to maintain a homogeneous character; — •. 
no church can be secure either of purity or peace, 
for a single year ; — nay, no church can effectually 
guard against the highest degrees of corruption and 
strife, without some test of truth, explicitly agreed 
upon, and adopted by her, in her ecclesiastical ca- 
pacity: something recorded; something publicly 
known ; something capable of being referred to when 
most needed ; which not merely this or that private 
member supposes to have been received ; but to 
which the church as such has agreed to adhere, as 
'4 bond of union. In other words, a church, in 
order to maintain "the unity of the Spirit in the 
\ bond of peace and love," must have a Creed — a 


WRITTEN Creed — to which she has formally given 
her assent, and to a conformity to which her minis- 
trations are pledged. As long as such a test is faith- 
fully applied, she cannot fail of being in some good 
degree united and harmonious ; and when nothing 
of the kind is employed, I see not how she can be ex- 
pected, without a miracle, to escape all the evils ot 
discord and corruption. 

2. The necessity and importance of Creeds and 
Confessions appear from the consideration, that one 
great design of establishing a church in our world 
was, that she might be in all ages, a depository, 


Christians, collectively as well as individually, 
are represented in Scripture as witnesses for 
God among men. They are commanded to main- 
tain his truth, and to " hold forth the word of life," 
in all its purity and lustre before a perverse genera- 
tion, that others may be enlightened and converted. 
They are exhorted to " buy the truth, and not to sell 
it;" — to "contend earnestly for the faith once de- 
livered to the saints;" — to "hold fast the form of 
sound words which they have received ;" — and to 
"strive together for the faith of the Gospel." These, 
and many oAer commands, of similar import, plainly 
make it the duty of every christian church to de- 
tect and expose prevailing heresies ; to exclude all 
such as embrace radical heresy from their com- 
munion ; and to "lift up a standard" for truth, 
whenever " the enemy comes in like a flood." 

But does not all this imply taking effectual mea- 
sures to distinguish between truth and error? Does 


not all this necessarily infer the duty of drawings 
and publicly manifesting^ a line between those who, 
while they profess, in general, to believe the Bible, 
really deny all its essential doctrines; and those who 
simply and humbly receive " the truth as it is in 
Jesus ?" But how is this distinction to be made, see- 
ing those who deny, as well as those who embrace 
the essential doctrines of the Gospel, equally profess 
to receive the Bible ? It can only be done by care- 
fully ascertaining and explicitly declaring how the 
church herself, and how those whom she suspects 
of being in error, understand and interpret the Bible ; 
that is, by extracting certain articles of faith from 
the Scriptures, according to her understanding of 
them, and comparing with these articles the profess- 
ed belief of those whom she supposes to be heretics. 
And what is this but extracting from the Scriptures 
a Confession of faith — a Creed, and applying it 
as a test of sound principles ? It does really appear 
to me that those orthodox brethren, who admit that 
the church is bound to raise her voice against error, 
and to " contend earnestly" for the truth ; and yet 
denounce Creeds and Confessions, are, in the high- 
est degree inconsistent with themselves. They ac- 
knowledge the obligation and importance of a great 
duty ; and yet reject the only means by which it 
can be performed. Quite as unreasonable, I am 
constrained to say, as the " task-masters" of Egypt, 
they require work to be done, without allowing the 
materials necessary to its accomplishment. Before 
the church, as such, can detect heretics, and cast 
them out from her bosom : before she can raise her 

17 \ 

voice, in "a day of rebuke and of blasphemy,*' 
against prevailing errors, her governors and mem- 
bers must be agreed what is truth ; and, unless they 
would give themselves up, in their official judg- 
ments, to all the caprice and feverish effervescence 
of occasional feeling, they must have some accre- 
dited, permanent document, exhibiting what they 
have agreed to consider as truthi There is really 
no feasible alternative. They must either have 
such "a form of sound words," which they have 
voluntarily adopted, and pledged themsel^s to one 
another to "hold fast;" or they can have no security 
that any two or more successive decisions concerning 
soundness in the faith will be alike. In other words, 
they cannot attain, in any thing like a steady, uni- 
form, consistent manner, one of the great purposes 
for which the visible church was established. 

It surely will not be said, by any considerate 
person, that the church, or any of her individual 
members, can sufficiently fulfil the duty in question, 
by simply proclaiming, from time to time, in the 
midst of surrounding error, her adherence and her 
attachment to the Bible. Every one must see that 
this would be, in fact, doing nothing as "witness- 
es of the truth ;" because it would be doing nothing 
jyeculiar ; nothing distinguishing ; nothing which 
every heretic in Christendom is not ready to do, or 
rather is not daily doing, as loudly, and as frequently 
as the most orthodox church. The very" idea of 
*' bearing testimony to the truth," and of separat- 
ing from those who are so corrupt that christian 
communion cannot be maintained with them, neces- 


sarily implies some public discriminating act, i»i. 
which the church agrees upoti, and expresses her 
belief in, the great doctrines of Christianity, in con- 
tradistinction from those who believe erroneously. 
Now to suppose that any thing of this kind can be 
accomplished, by making a profession, the very 
same, in every respect, with that which the worst 
heretics make, is too palpably absurd to satisfy any 
sober inquirer. 

Of what value, let me ask, had the Waldenses 
and Albigenses been, as witnesses of the truth 
— as LIGHTS IN THK WORLD, amidst the darkness 
of surrounding corruption ; — especially of what va- 
lue had they been to the church in succeeding times, 
and to us at the present day ; if they had not form- 
ed, and transmitted to posterity those celebrated 
Confessions of Faith, as precious as they are 
memorable, w^hich we read in their history, and 
which stand as so many monumental testimonies to 
the true " Gospel of the grace of God ?" Without 
THESE, how should we ever have known in what 
manner they interpreted the Bible ; or wherein they 
differed from the grossest heretics, who lived at the 
same time, and professed to receive the same Bible r 
Without these, how should we ever have seen so 
clearly and satisfactorily as we do, that they main- 
tained the truth aad the order of Christ's house, 
amidst all the wasting desolations of the "man of 
sin ;" and thus fulfilled his promise, that there shall 
always be "a seed to serve him, who shall be ac* 
counted to the Lord for a generation ?" 

3. The adoption and publication of a Creed, is 


christian church owes to the other churches, 


Every wise man will wish to be united in reli- 
gious duty and privilege, with those who most 
nearly agree with himself in their views of doctrine 
and order ; with those in intercourse with whom he 
can be most happy, and best edified. Of course, he 
will be desirous, before he joins any church, toknoio 
something of its faith, government, and general cha- 
racter. I will suppose a pious and ingenuous imii- 
vidual about to form his religious connections for 
life. He looks round on the churches to which he 
has most access, and is desirous of deciding with 
which of them he can be most comfortable. I will 
suppose that, in this survey, he turns his eyes to- 
wards the trul}" scriptural and primitive church to 
which it is our happiness to belong. He is anxious 
to know the doctrine as well as the order which he 
may expect to find in connection with our body. 
How is he to know this? Certainly not by going 
from church to church throughout our whole bounds, 
and learning the creed of every individual minister 
from his own lips. This would be physically im- 
possible, without bestowing on the task a degree of 
time and toil, which scarcely any man could afford. 
He could not actually hear for himself the doctrines 
taught in a twentieth part of our pulpits. And if he 
could, he would still be unable to decide, from this 
source alone, how far what he heard might be re- 
garded as the uniform and universal, and especially 
as the permanent character of the church ; and not 


rather as an accidental exhibition. But when such 
an inquirer finds that we have a published creed, 
declaring how we understand the scriptures, and 
explicitly stating in detail the great truths which we 
have agreed to unite in maintaining ; he can ascertain 
in a few hours, and without leaving his own dwel- 
ling, what we profess to believe and to practice, and 
how far he may hope to be at home in our commu- 
nion. And while he is enabled thus to understand 
the system to which ive profess to adhere, he ena- 
bles us to understand his views, by ascertaining how 
far they accord with our published creed. 

Further ; what is thus due to ingenuous indi- 
viduals, who wish to know the real character of 
our church, is also due to neighbouring church- 
es, who may have no less desire to ascertain the 
principles which we embrace. It is delightful for 
ecclesiastical communities, who approach near to 
each other in faith and order, to manifest their 
affection for one another, by cherishing some de- 
gree of christian intercourse. But what church, 
which valued the preservation of its own purity and 
peace, would venture on such intercourse with a 
body which had no defined system, either of doc- 
trine or government, to which it stood pledged; and 
which might, therefore, prove a source of pollution 
and disorder to every other church with which it 
had the smallest interchansje of services ? One of 
the ministers of such a denomination, when invited 
into the pulpit of an orthodox brother, might give 
entire satisfaction ; while the very next to whom a 
similar mark of christian affection and confidence 


was shown, might preach the most corrupt heresy. 
Creeds and Confessions, then, so far from having a 
tendency to "alienate" and "embitter" those christ- 
ian denominations, which think nearly alike, and 
ought to maintain fraternal intercourse; really tend 
to make them acquainted with each other ; to lay 
a foundation for regular and cordial intercourse; to 
beget mutual confidence ; and thus to promote the 
harmony of the church of God. 

I scruple not, therefore, to affirm, that, as every 
individual minister owes to all around him a frank 
avowal of his cliristian faith, when any desire to 
know it ; so every church owes it to her sister 
churches, to be equally frank and explicit in publicly 
declaring her principles. She, no doubt, believes 
those principles to be purely scriptural. In publicly 
avowing them, therefore, she performs the double 
duty of bearing testimony to the truth, and of en- 
deavouring to draw from less pure denominations, 
and from the surrounding world, new support to 
what she conscientiously believes to be more correct 
sentiments than theirs. She may be erroneous in 
this estimate ; but still she does what she can, and 
what she unfeignedly believes to be right; and what, 
of course, as long as this conviction continues, she 
is bound to perform. And I have no hesitation in 
further maintaining, that, in all ages, those christian 
churches which have been most honourably distin- 
guished for their piety, their zeal, and their adher- 
ence to the simplicity of the gospel, have been, not 
only most remarkable for their care in forming, but 
also for their frankness in avowing, their doctrinal 



creed ; and their disposition to let all around them 
distinctly understjuid what they professed to regard 
as the fundamental doctrines of our holy religion. 

4. Another argument in favour of Creeds pub- 
licly adopted and maintained, is that they are 


It is the general principle of the enemies of 
Creeds, that all who profess to believe the Bible, 
ought, without further inquiry, to unite; to maintain 
ecclesiastical communion 5 and to live together in 
peace. But is it not manifest, that the only way in 
which those who essentially differ from each other 
concerning the fundamental doctrines of the gos- 
pel, can live together in perfectly harmonious eccle- 
siastical fellowship, is by becoming indifferent to 
truth ; in other words, by becoming persuaded that 
modes of faith are of little or no practical import- 
ance to the church, and are, therefore, not worth 
contending for ; that clear and discriminating views 
of christian doctrine are wholly unnecessary, and of 
little use in the formation of christian character ? 
But in proportion as professing christians are indif- 
ferent to truth, will they not be apt to neglect the 
study of it ? And if the study of it be generally 
neglected, will not gross and deplorable ignorance 
of it eventually and generally prevail ? The fact is, 
when men love gospel truth well enough to study 
it with care, they will soon learn to estimate its va- 
lue ; and when they learn to estimate its value, they 
will soon be disposed to " contend for it,- ' against 


its enemies, who are numerous in every age; and 
this will inevitably lead them to adopt and defend 
that " form of sound words" which they think they 
find in the sacred scriptures. On the other hand, let 
any man imbibe the notion that Creeds and Confes- 
sions are unscriptuial, and of course unlawful^ and 
he will naturally and speedily pass to the conclusion, 
that all contending for doctrines is useless, and even 
criminal. From this the transition is easy to the 
abandonment of the study of doctrine, or, at least, 
the zealous aud diligent study of it. Thus it is, 
that laying aside all Creeds, naturally tends to make 
professing christians indifferent to the study of christ- 
ian truth ; comparatively uninterested in the attain- 
ment of religious knowledge ; and, finally, regard- 
less, and of course, ignorant of " the faith once de- 
livered to the saints." 

I would by no means, indeed, be understood to 
assert, that no heretics have ever been zealous in 
publishing and defending their corrupt opinions. 
The pages of ecclesiastical history abundantly show, 
that many of the advocates of error, both in ancient 
and modern times, have contended not only pertina- 
ciously, but even fiercely, for their peculiar doc- 
trines. But my position is, that the enemies of all 
Creeds and Confessions usually assume a principle, 
which, if carried out to its legitimate consequences, 
would discourage all zeal in maintaining the peculiar 
doctrines of the Gospel ; that if all zeal in maintain- 
ing peculiar doctrines were laid aside, all ardour and 
diligence in studying them would be likely to be laid 
aside also ; and that, if this were the case, a state of 


things, more unfriendly to the growth and prevalence 
of christian knowledge could scarcely be imagined. 
J^ook at the loose, vague, undecisive character of 
the preaching heard in nine tenths of the Unitarian, 
and other latitudinarian pulpits in the United States, 
and as I suppose, throughout Christendom. If the oc- 
cupants of those pulpits had it for their distinct and 
main object to render their hearers indifferent about 
understanding, and, of course, indifferent about stu- 
dying, the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, they 
could scarcely adopt a plan more directly calculated 
to attain their end, than that which they actually 
pursue, 'Their incessant cry is, "matters of ojnnion 
are between God, and a man's own conscience. 
No one else has a right to meddle with them." 
Hence, in pursuance of this maxim, they do, indeed, 
take care to meddle very little with the distinguish- 
ing doctrines of the gospel. We conjecture what 
their doctrinal o))inions are, in general, not so much 
from what they say, as from wliat they do not say* 
And the truth is, that if this character of preaching 
was to become universal, all discriminating views of 
gospel-truth would, in thirty years, be banished 
from the church. 

If the friends of orthodoxy and piety, then, 
really desire to cherish and maintain a love for the 
discriminating study of christian doctrine; a taste 
for religious knowledge; a spirit of zeal for the 
truth, in opposition to that miserable indifference 
to articles of faith, which is so replete with mis- 
chief to every christian community in which it 
is found ; — rtlien let theifi be careful to present, and 


diligently to keep before the eyes of one another, 
and the eye of the public, that " good confession" 
vviiich they are commanded to "profess before 
many witnesses." If they fail to do this; if, un- 
der the guise of adherence to that great Protestant 
maxim, that the Bible is the only imfallible rule 
of faith and manners, — (a precious all-important 
truth, which, properly understood, cannot be too 
often repeated) — they speak and act as if all who 
profess to receive the Bible were standing upon 
equally solid and safe ground; if, in a word, 
they consider it as unnecessary, and even crimi- 
nal, to select from the mass of scriptural truth, and. 
to defend, as such, the fundamental doctrines of 
the gospel ; — then, nothing short of miracle can 
prevent them from sinking into that coldness and 
sloth with respect to the study of doctrine, and 
finally into that deplorable " lack of knowledge" by 
which millions are constantly " destroyed." 

5. It is an argument of no small weight in 
favour of Creeds, that the experience of all ages 


Even in the days of the apostles, when all their 
inspiration and all their miraculous powers, were 
insufficient to deter heretics from spreading their 
poison ; — men, calling themselves christians, and 
professing to preach the religion of Christ, pervert- 
ed his truth, and brought "another gospel," which 
He had not taught. In this exigency, how did the 
churches proceed ? An inspired apostle directed them 
not to be contented with a general profession of be- 
lief in the religion of Christ on the part of those who 


came to them as christian teachers ; but to examine 
and try them, and to ascertain whether their teach- 
ing were agreeable to the " form of sound words'* 
which they had been taught by him : and he adds 
with awful solemnity — " If any man bring any 
other gospel unto you than that ye have received, 
let him be accursed" Here was, in effect, an 
instance, and that by Divine warrant, of employing 
a Creed as a test of orthodoxy: that is, men 
making a general profession of Christianity, are 
expressly directed by an inspired apostle, to be 

DERSTOOD THAT GOSPEL, of which in general terms, 
they declared their reception; and how they ex- 
plained its leading doctrines. It would seem, in- 
deed, that the Confession of Faith then required 
was very short and simple. This, the peculiar 
circumstances of the times, and the no less peculiar 
administration of the church, rendered entirely 
sufficient. Still, whether the Confession were 
long or short ; whether it consisted of three articles 
or of thirty, the principle was the same. 

In the second century, in the writings of Irenceus; 
and in the third, in the writings of Teriidlian, Ori- 
gen, Cyprian, Gregory Thaumaturgus, and Lucian, 
the martyr, we find a number of Creeds and Con- 
fessions, more formally drawn out, more minute, 
and more extensive than those of earlier date. They 
were intended to bear testimony against the various 
forms of error which had arisen ; and plainly show 
that, as the arts and corruptions of heretics in- 
"^ creased, the orthodox church found more attention 


to the adoption and maintenance of these formula- 
ries indispensably necessary. 

In the fourth century, when the church was still 
more agitated by the prevalence of heresy, there was 
a still louder demand for accredited tests, by which 
the heretics were to be tried and detected. Of this 
demand there never was a more striking instance 
than in the Council of Nice, when the heresy of 
Arius was under the consideration of that far-famed 
assembly. When the Council entered on the exa- 
mination of the subject, it was found extremely dif- 
ficult to obtain from Arius any satisfactory explana- 
tion of his views. He was not only as ready as the 
most orthodox divine present, to profess that he be- 
lieved the Bible ; but he also declared himself wil- 
ling to adopt, as his own, all the language of the 
scriptures, in detail, concerning the person and cha- 
racter of the blessed Redeemer. But when the mem- 
bers of the Council wished to ascertain in what 

covered a disposition to evade and equivocate, and 
actually, for a considerable time, baffled the attempts 
of the most ingenious of the orthodox to specify 
his errors, and to bring them to light. He declared 
that he was perfectly willing to employ the popular 
language on the subject in controversy ; and wished 
to have it believed that he differed very little from 
the body of the church. Accordingly the orthodox 
went over the various titles of Christ plainly expres- 
sive of Divinity, — such as " God" — " the true God" 
— the " express image of God," &c. — to every one 
of which Arius and his followers most readily sub- 


scribed ; — claiming a right, however, to put their 
OWN CONSTRUCTION Oil the scriptuial titles in quest- 
ion. After employing much time and ingenuity in 
vain, in endeavouring to drag this artful chief 
from his lurking places, and to obtain from him an 
explanation of his views, the Council found it would 
be impossible to accomplish their object as long as 
they permitted him to intrench himself behind a 
\V.niere general profession of belief in the Bible. 
They therefore, did, what common sense, as well as 
the word of God, had taught the church to do in 
all preceding times, and what alone can enable her 
to detect the artful advocate of error. Th«»f ex- 
pressed, in their own language, what they supposed 
to be the doctrine of scripture concerning the Divin- 
ity of the Saviour ; in other words, they drew up a 
Confession of Faith on this subject, which they 
called upon Arius and his disciples to subscribe. 
This the heretics refused ; and were thus virtually 
brought to the acknowledgement that they did not 
understand the scriptures as the rest of the Council 
understood them, and, of course, that the charge 
against then^'as correct. 

The same course was taken by all the pious 
wiTNESSESS OF THE TRUTH iu the dark ages, when 
amidst the surrounding corruption, and desolation, 
they found themselves called upon to bear witness 
to the truth." They all professed their belief in the 
Bible, and their love to it ; they constantly appeal- 
ed to it, as the only infallible rule of faith and prac- 
tice ; and they studied it with incomparably more 
veneration and diligence than any of the errorists 


around them. This all history plainly evinces. But 
at the same time, they saw the futility of doing 
nothing more than proclaim in general, their adhe- 
rence to the sacred volume. This would have been 
no distinction, and of course, no testimony at all. It 
would have been nothing more than the bitterest ene- 
mies of the truth were proclaiming busily, and even 
clamorously, every day. They, therefore, did what 
the friends of orthodoxy had been in the habit of do- 
ing from the earliest ages. They framed creeds, 
from time to time, as the exigencies of the church 
demanded, by means of which they Vi^ere enabled to 
bear their testimony for God; to vindicate his 
truth ; and to transmit the memorials of their fidelity 
to distant generations. — And finally, at the glorious 
Reformation from Popery, by which the great Head 
of the church may be said again to have "set 
his people free," and the memory of which shall 
never die;— in drawing the line between "the precious 
and the vile," the friends of truth followed the same 
course. They, with one accord, formed their Creeds 
and Confessions, which served, at once, as a plea for 
the truth, and a barrier against heresy. And it is 
not, perhaps, too much to say, that the volume 
which contains the collection of these Creeds, is one 
of the most precious and imperishable monuments 
of the piety, wisdom, and zeal of the sixteenth cen- 

What, now, is the inference from all this experi- 
ence of the church of God, so universal and so uni- 
form ? It cannot be misunderstood. It speaks 
volumes. When the friends of truth in all ages and 



situations, e\en those who were most tenacious of 
the rights of private judgment, and most happy in 
the enjoyment of christian liberty, have invariably 
found it necessary to resort to the adoption of Creeds, 
in order to ascertain for themselves, as a social body, 
and to communicate to others, for their benefit, 


naturally led to conclude, not only that the resort is 
neither so "unreasonable" nor so "baneful" as many 
would persuade us to believe ; but that there is real- 
ly no other practicable method of maintaining unity 
and purity in the church of Christ. 

6. A further argument in favour of Creeds and Con- 
fessions, may be drawn from the remarkable fact, 


I do not affirm that the use of Creeds has never 
been opposed by individuals substantially orthodox, 
and even by orthodox churches : for it is believed that 
a few rare oases of this anomalv have occurred, un- 
der the influence of strong prejudice, or veiy peculiar 
circumstances. yTet, so far as I can recollect, we 
have no example of it among the ancients. Such 
cases are the growth of very modern times. Nor, on 
the other hand, is it my purpose to deny that here- 
tics have sometimes been extremely zealous in form- 
ing and maintaining the most corrupt Creeds. For 
of this the early history of the church abounds with 
examples, and its later periods have not been wholly 
without them. But what I venture to assert is, that, 
as a general fact, the most ardent and noisy oppo- 
nents of Creeds have been those who held corrupt 


opinions; that none, calling themselves christians, 
have been so bitter in reviling them, in modern times, 
as the friends of Unitarianism, and those who were 
leaning toward that awful gulph ; and that the most 
consistent and zealous advocates of truth have been, 
every where and at all times, distinguished by their 
friendship to such formularies. Nor has this been by 
any means a fortuitous occurrence; but precisely 
what might have been calculated, on principle, as 
likely to be realized. It is an invariable characteris- 
tic of the orthodox that they lay great stress on the 
knowledge and reception of truth ; that they con- 
sider it as necessary to holiness ; that they deem an 
essential part of fidelity to their master in heaven, to 
consist in contending for it, and maintaining it, in 
opposition to all the forms of error. On the contra- 
ry, it is almost as invariable a characteristic of 
modern heretics, and more especially of those who 
fall under the general denomination of Unitarians, 
that they profess lightly to esteem modes of faith ; 
that they manifest a marked indifference to truth ; 
that they, for the most part, maintain, in so many 
words, the innocence of error; and hence very natu- 
rally reprobate, and even vilify, ii\] faithful attempts 
to oppose heresy, and to separate heretics from the 
church. From those, then, who have either/«r de- 
parted, or at least begun to depart, from " the faith 
once delivered to the saints," almost exclusivel}'^, do 
we hear of the " oppression," and the " mischief" of 
Creeds and Confessions. And is it any marvel that 
those who maintain the innocence of error, should 
be unwilling to raise fences for keeping it out of the 


church ? Is it any marvel that the Arian, the Socini- 
an, the Pelagian, and such as are verging toward 
those fatal errors, should exceedingly dislike all the 
evangelical formularies, which tend to make visible 
the line of distinction between the friends and the 
enemies of the Redeemer ? No ; — men, as has been 
often well obseved, " men are seldom found oppo- 
sed to Creeds, mitil Creeds have become opposed to 
them.'? That ^/le?/ should dislike and oppose them, in 
these circumstances, is just as natural as that a cul- 
prit arraigned before a civil tribunal, should equally 
dishke the law, its officer, and its sanction. 

Accordingly, if we look a little into the interiour 
of church history, especially within the last century, 
we shall find these remarks often and strikingly ex- 
emplified. We shall find, with few exceptions, that 
whenever a group of men began to slide, with respect 
to orthodoxy, they generally attempted to break, if 
not to conceal, their fall, by declaiming against 
Creeds and Confessions.' They have seldom failed, 
indeed, to protest in the beginning, that they had no 
objections to the doctrines themselves of the Confes- 
sion which they had subscribed, but to the principle 
of subscribing Confessions at all. Soon, however, 
was the melancholy fact gradually unfolded, that 
disaffection to the doctrines which they once appear- 
ed to love, had more influence in directing their 
course, than even they themselves imagined, and that 
they were receding further and further from the 
" good way" in which they formerly seemed to re- 
joice. L'Truly that cause is of a most suspicious 
character to which latitudinarians and heretics, at 


least in modern times, almost as a matter of course, 
yield their support ; and which they defend with a 
zeal, in general, strictly proportioned to their hatred 
of orthodoxy ! 

7. The only further argument in support of Creeds 
on which I shall dwell, is, that their most zealous 


The favourite maxim, with the opposers of Creeds, 
that all who acknowledge the Bible, ought, without 
hesitation, to be received, not only to christian, but 
also to ministerial communion, is invariably aban- 
doned by those who urge it, the moment a case 
turns up which really brings it to the test. Did any 
one ever hear of a Unitarian congregation engaging 
as their Pastor a preacher of Cahinism, knowing 
him to be such ? But why not, on the principle 
adopted, or at least, professed by Unitarians ? The 
Calvinist surely comes with his Bible in his hand, 
and professes to believe it as cordially as the}^ 
Why is not that enough ? Yet we know that, in 
fact, it is not enough for these advocates of unbound- 
ed liberality. Before they will consent to receive 
him as their spiritual guide, they must be explicitly 
informed, how he interprets the Bible; in 
other words, what is his particular Creed; 
whether it is substantially the same with their own 
or not : and if they are not satisfied that this is the 
case, all other professions and protestations will be 
in vain. He will be inexorably rejected. Here, 
then, we have in all its extent, i\\e principle of de- 


mantling subscription to a Creed ; and a prin- 
ciple carried out into practice as rigourously as ever 
it was by the most high-toned advocate of or- 

We have before seen, that the friends of truth, in 
all ages, have found, in their sad experience, that a 
general profession of belief in the Bible, was alto- 
gether insufficient, either as a bond of union, or as 
a fence against the inroads of error. And here we 
find, the warmest advocates of a contrary doctrine, 
and with a contrary language in their mouths, when 
they come to act, pursuing precisely the same 


this difference, that the Creed which they apply as 
a test, instead of being a written and tangible docu- 
ment, is hidden in the bosoms of those who expound 
and employ it, and, of course, may be applied in the 
most capricious as well as tyrannical manner, with- 
out appeal ; and further, that, while they really act 
upon this principle, they disavoio it, and would per- 
suade the world that they proceed upon an entirely 
different plan. 

Can there be a more conclusive fact than this ? 
The enemies of Creeds themselves cannot get along 
a day without them. It is in vain to say, that in 
their case no Creed is imposed, but that all is volun- 
tary, and left entirely to the choice of the parties 
concerned. It will be seen hereafter that the same 
may be with equal truth asserted, in all those cases 
of subscription to articles, for which I contend, with- 
out any exception. No less vain is it to say, again, 
that in their case the articles insisted on are few and 


35 r 

simple, and by no means so liable to exception as the 
long and detailed Creeds which some churches have 
adopted. It is the 'principle of subscription to Creeds 
which is now under consideration. If the lawful- 
ness and even the necessity of acting upon this prin- 
ciple can be established, our cause is gained. The 
extent to which we ought to go in multiplying arti- 
cles, is a secondary question, the answer to which 
must depend on the exigencies of the church framing 
the Creed. Now the adversaries of Creeds, w^hile they 
totally reject the expediency, and even the lawful- 
ness, of the general principle, yet show that they 
cannot proceed a step without adopting it in practice. 
This is enough. Their conduct is sounder than their 
reasoning. And no wonder. Their conduct is dic- 
tated by good sense, and practical experience, nay 
imposed upon them by the evident necessity of the 
case : while their reasoning is a theory, derived, as 
I must believe, from a source far less enlightened, 
and less safe. 

Several other arguments might be urged in favour 
of written Creeds, did not the limits to which 1 am 
confined in this Lecture, forbid me further to enlarge. 

It were easy to show that Confessions of Faith, 
judiciously drawn, and solemnly adopted by particu- 
lar churches, are not only invaluable as bonds of 
union, and fences against error ; but that they also 
servcj'an important purpose, as accredited manuals of 
christian doctrine, well fitted for the instruction of 
those private members of churches, who have neither 
leisure, nor habits of thinking sufficiently close, to 
draw from the sacred writings themselves a consist- 


ent system of truth. It is of incalculable use to the 
individual who has but little time for reading, and 
but little acquaintance with books, to be furnished 
with a clear and well arranged, compend of religious 
doctrine, which he is authorized to regard, not 
merely as the work of a single, enlightened, and 
pious divine ; but as drawn out and adopted by the 
collected wisdom of the church to which he belongs. 
There is often a satisfaction, to a plain, unsophisti- 
cated mind, not to be described, in going over such 
a compend, article by article ; examining the proofs 
adduced from the word of God in support of each; 
and "searching the scriptures daily to see whether 
the things which it teaches are so or not." 

It might also be further shown, that sound and 
scriptural Confessions of Faith, are of great value for 
transmitting to posterity a knowledge of what is 
done by the church, at particular times, in behalf of 
the truth. Every such Confession that is formed or 
adopted by the followers of Christ in one age, is a 
precious legacy transmitted to their children, and to 
all that may come after them, in a succeeding age, 
not only bearing their testimony in support of the 
true doctrines of Jesus Christ, but also pouring more 
or less light on those doctrines, for the instruction of 
all to whom that testimony may come. 

But while we attend to the principal arguments in 
favour of written Creeds, justice to the subject re- 
quires that we 

II. Examine some of the principal objections 
which have been made to Creeds by their adversa- 


1. And the first which I shall mention is, that 
forming a Creed, and requiring subscription to it as 
a religious test, is superseding the bible, and 


STANDARD OF FAITH. " The Bible," say those who 
urge this objection, " is the only infallible rule of 
faith and practice. It is so complete, that it needs 
no human addition, and so easily understood, that it 
requires no human explanation. Why, then, should 
we desire any other ecclesiastical standard? Why- 
subscribe ourselves, or call upon others to subscribe, 
any other Creed than this plain, inspired, and perfect 
one ? Every time we do this, we oifer a public indig- 
nity to the sacred volume, as we virtually declare, 
either that it is not infallible, or not sufficient." 
/ This objection is the most specious one in the 
whole cataIogue>> And although it is believed that 
a sufficient answer has been furnished by some of 
the principles already laid down ; yet the confidence 
with which it is every day repeated, renders a formal 
attention to it expedient ; more especially as it bears, 
at first view, so much the appearance of peculiar 
veneration for the scriptures, that many are capti- 
vated by its plausible aspect, and consider it as de- 

The whole argument which this objection pre- 
sents, is founded on a false assumption. No Pro- 
testant ever professed to regard his Creed, considered 
as a human composition, as of equal authority with 
the scriptures, and far less as of paramount authority. 
Every principle of this kind is, with one voice, dis- 
claimed, by all the Creeds, and defences of Creeds, 


that I have ever read./ And whether, notwithstand- 
ing this, the constant repetition of the charge, ought 
to be considered as lair argument, or gross calumny, 
the impartial will judge.-r^A church Creed professes" 
to be, as was before observed, merely an epitome, or 
summary exhibition of what the scriptures 
TEACH. It professes to be deduced from the scrip- 
tures, and to refer to the scriptures for the whole of 
its authority. Of course, when an}^ one subscribes 
it, he is so far from dishonouring the Bible, that he 
does public homage to it. He simply declares, by a 
solemn act, how he understands the Bible ; in other 
words, what doctrines he considers it as containing. 
In short, the language of an orthodox believer, in 
subscribing his ecclesiastical Creed, is simply of the 
following import. — ■" While the Socinian professes to 
believe the Bible, and to understand it as teaching 
the mere humanity of Christ : — while the Arian pro-* 
fesses to receive the same Bible, and to find in it 
the Saviour represented as the most exalted of all 
creatures, but still a creature : — While the Pelagian 
and Semi-Pelagian make a similar profession of their 
general belief in the scriptures, and interpret them 
as teaching a doctrine, far more favourable to human 
nature, and far less honourable to the grace of God, 
than they appear to me really to teach ; — I beg the 
privilege of declaring, for myself, that, while I 
believe, with all my heart, that the Bible is the word 
of God, the only perfect rule of faith and manners, 
and the only ultimate test in all controversies — it 
plainly teaches, as 1 read and believe — the deplora- 
ble and total depravity of human nature — the essen- 

39 s^ 

tial Divinity of the Saviour — a Trinity of persons in 
the Godhead — justification by the imputed righteous- 
ness of Christ — and regeneration and sanctification 
by the Holy Spirit, as indispensable to prepare the 
soul for heaven. — These I believe to be the radical 
truths which God hath revealed in his word ; and 
while they are denied by some, and frittered away 
or perverted by others, who profess to believe that 
blessed word, I am verily persuaded they are the ^/i 

fundamental principles of the plan of salvation." r 

Now, I ask, is there in all this language, any 
thing dishonourable to the Bible ? Any thing that 
tends to supersede its authority ; or to introduce a 
rule, or a tribunal of paramount authority? /Is there 
,--itot, on the contrary ^.^n the whole language and 
spirit of such a declaration, an acknowledgment of 
God's word as of ultimate and supreme authority ; 
ajnji^^ expression of belief in certain doctrines, 
f SIMPLY and ONLY BECAUSE they are believed to be 
/ REVEALED IN THAT WORD?) Truly, if THIS be dis- 
Tionouring the scriptures, or setting up a standard 
above them, there is an end of all meaning either of 
words or actions. 
/<^^ut still it is asked — " Where is the need of any 
r definitive declaration of what we understand the 
''scriptures to teac^ Are they not intelligible enough 
in themselves ? Can we make them plainer than 
their Author has done ? Why hold a candle to the 
sun ? Why make an attempt to frame a more expli- 
cit test than He who gave the Bible has thought 
proper to frame : — an attempt, as vain as it is pre- . 
sumptuous ?" To this plea it is sufficient to answer, 1 


'that, although the scriptures are undoubtedly simple 
and plain ) so plain that " he who runs may read ;" 
yet it is equally certain that thousands do, in fact, 
mistake and misinterpret them. This cannot possi- 
bly be denied ; because^ thousands interpret them, 
and that on points confessedly fundamental, not only 
in different, but in directly opposite ways. Of course 
all cannot be equally right. Can it be wrong, then, 
for a pious and orthodox man — or for a pious and 
orthodox church, to exhibit, and endeavour to recom- 
mend to others, their mode of interpreting the sacred 

s volume ? As the world is acknowledged, on all 
hands, to be, in fact, full of mistake and error as to 
the true meaning of holy scripture, can it be thought 
a superfluous task for those who have more light, 
and more correct opinions, to hold them up to view, 
as a testimony to the truth, and as a guide to such 
as may be in error ? fSurely it cannot. Yet this is 
neither more nor less than precisely that formation 
and maintenance of a scriptural Confession of Faith 

^or which 1 am pleading. 

Still, however, it may be asked, what right has 
any man, or set of men to interpose their authority, 
and undertake to deal out the sense of scripture for 
others? Is it not both impious in itself, and an im- 
proper assumption over the minds of our fellow men ? 
I answer, this reasoning would prove too much, and 
therefore, proves nothing. For, if admitted, it would 
prove that all preaching of the gospel is pre- 
sumptuous and criminal ; because preaching always 
consists in explaining and enforcing scripture, and 
that, for the most part, in the words of the preacher 


himself. Indeed, if the objection before us were 
valid, it would prove that all the pious writings of 
the most eminent Divines, in all ages, who have 
had for their object to elucidate and apply the word 
of God, were profane and arrogant attempts to mend 
his revelation, and make it better fitted than it is, to 
promote its great design. |' Nay, further; upon the 
principle of this objection, it not only follows, that 
no minister of the gospel ought ever to do more in 
the pulpit than simply to read or to repeat the 
VERY WORDS OF SCRIPTURE; but it is equally evi- 
dent, that he must read or repeat scripture to his 
hearers, only in the languages in which they 

WERE originally GIVEN TO THE CHURCH. For, 

as has been often observed, it cannot be said, that 
the words of any translation of the Bible are the 
very words of the Holy Spirit. ' They are only the 
words which uninspired men have chosen, in which 
to express, as nearly as they were able, the sense of 
the original. If, therefore, the objection before us 
be admitted, no man is at liberty to teach the great 
truths of revelation in any other way than by literal- 
ly repeating the Hebrew text of the old testament, 
and the Greek of the new, in the hearing of the 
people. So extreme is the absurdity to which an 
erroneous principle will not fail to lead those who 
are weak enough, or bold enough to follow it to its 
legitimate consequences ! ^^^^s^ftt 

But, after all, what language do facts ^peak on 
this subject? Are those individuals or churches, 
who have been most distinguished for their attach- 
ment and adherence to Creeds, more regardless of 


the Bible than other professing christians ? Do they 
appear to esteem the Bible less ? Do they read it 
less ? Do they appeal to it less frequently, as their 
grand and ultimate authority ? Do they quote it 
more rarely, or with less respect in their preaching ? 
Where they once refer to their Creeds or Catechisms, 
for either authority or illustration, in the pulpit, do 
they not, notoriously, refer to the Bible a thousand 
times? Do they take less pains than others to impress 
the contents of the sacred volume on the minds of 
their children, and to hold it forth as the unceasing 
object of study to all ? Look at the reformed churches 
of Scotland and Holland, of France and Geneva, in 
their best state, when their Confessions of Faith 
were most venerated, and had most power ; and then 
say, whether any churches, since the days of the 
Apostles, ever discovered more reverence for the 
scriptures, or treated them with more devout regard, 
as the only perfect standard of faith and practice, than 
they ? Nay, am I not warranted in making a similar 
appeal with respect to those churches in our land, 
which have been most distinguished for their attach- 
ment to Creeds? Are not their ministers, in general, 
quite as remarkable for very rarely quoting their 
own ecclesiastical formularies, for either proof or 
illustration, as they are for their constant and abun- 
dant quotations from scripture for both purposes? 
Can the same incessant and devout recurrence to the 
sacred oracles be ascribed with equal truth to the 
great body of the opposers of Creeds, in ancient or 
modem times? I will not press this comparison into 
further detail ; but have no apprehension that even 


the bitterest enemy of Creeds, who has a tolerable 
acquaintance with facts, and the smallest portion of 
candour, will venture to say that the result, fairly 
deduced, is in favour of his cause. ^ . : • . 

2. Another objection frequently made to church 
Creeds is, that they intekfere with the rights 

PRESSION. "What right," say those who urge this 
objection, " has any church, or body of churches, to 
impose a Creed on me, or dictate to me what I shall 
believe ? To attempt such dictation is tyranny ; to 
submit to it, is to surrender the right of private judg- 

There would be some ground for this objection, if 
a Creed were, in any case, imposed, by the civil go- 
vernment, or by an established church ; if any were 
obliged to receive it, under heavy pains and disabili- 
ties, whether they approved it or not. But as such a 
case does not, and, happily, cannot exist in our fa- 
voured country, the objection is surely as illegitimate 
in reasoning, as it is false in fact. One is tempted 
to suspect that those who urge such an objection 
among us, have found it manufactured to their 
hands, by persons living under civil governments and 
ecclesiastical establishments of an oppressive charac- 
ter ; and viewing it as a weapon which might be 
wielded with much popular effect, they have taken 
it into their service, and thenceforward refused to 
abandon it ; though proved a thousand times to have 
no more application to any Creed or church in the 
United States, than to the inhabitants of another 


It will not, surely, be denied by any one, that a 
body of christians have a right, in every free count- 
ry, to associate and walk together upon such princi- 
ples as they may choose to agree upon, not incon- 
sistent with public order. They have a right to 
agree and declare how they understand the scrip- 
tures ; what articles found in scripture they concur 
in considering as fundamental ; and in what manner 
they will have their public preaching and polity con- 
ducted, for the edification of themselves and their 
children. They have no right, indeed, to decide or 
to judge ybr others, nor can they compel any man to 
join them. But it is surely their privilege to judge 
for themselves ; to agree upon the i)lan of their own 
association ; to determine upon what principles they 
will receive other members into their brotherhood ; 
and to form a set of rules which will exclude from 
their body those with whom they cannot walk in 
harmony. The question is, not whether they make, 
in all cases, a wise and scriptural use of this right to 
follow the dictates of conscience — but whether they 
possess the right at all ? They are, indeed, account- 
able for the use which they make of it, and solemnly 
accountable, to their Master in heaven ; but to man 
they surely cannot, and ought not, to be compelled 
to give any account. It is their own concern. 
Their fellow-men have nothing to do with it, as 
long as they commit no offence against the public 
peace. To decide otherwise, would indeed be an 
outrage on the right of private judgment. If the 
principles of civil and religious liberty, generally 
prevalent in our happy country, be correct, demon- 


stration itself cannot be more incontrovertible than 
these positions. 

But if a body of professing christians have a 
natural right thus to associate, to extract their own 
Creed from the scriptures, and to agree upon the 
principles by which others may afterwards be admit- 
ted into their number ; is it not equally manifest 
that they have the same right to refuse admittance 
to those with whom, they believe, they cannot be 
comfortably connected ? ■>. 

Let us suppose a church to be actually associat-" 
ed upon the principle laid down ; its Creed and 
other articles adopted, and published for the inform- 
ation of all who may wish to be informed ; and its 
members walking together in harmony and love. 
Suppose, while things are in this situation, a person 
comes to them, and addresses them thus — "I demand 
admittance into your body, though I can neither be- 
lieve the doctrines which you profess to embrace, 
nor consent to be governed by the rules which you 
have agreed to adopt." — What answer would they 
be apt to give him ? They would certainly reply — 
*'Your demand is very unreasonable. Our union 
is a voluntary one, for our mutual spiritual benefit. 
We have not solicited you to join us ; and you can- 
not possibly have a right to force yourself into our 
body. The whole world is before you. Go where 
you please. We cannot agree to receive you, unless 
you are willing to walk with us upon our own prin- 
ciples." Such an answer would undoubtedly be 
deemed a proper one by every reasonable person. 
Suppose, however, this applicant were still to urge 




his demand; to claim admission as a right; and, 
upon being finally refused, to complain, that the so- 
ciety had " persecuted" and " injured" him ? Would 
any one think him possessed of common sense ? 
Nay, would not the society in question, if they 
could be compelled to receive such an applicant, in- 
stead of being oppressors of others, cease to be free 
themselves ? 

The same principle would still more strongly ap- 
ply, in case of a clergyman offering himself to such 
a church, as a candidate for the station of pastor 
among them. Suppose, when he appeared to make 
a tender of his services, they were to present him 
with a copy of that Creed, and of that form of go- 
vernment and of worship which they had unani- 
mously adopted, and to say — " This is what we be- 
lieve. We pretend not to prescribe to others ; but 
* so WE have learned Christ ;' so we understand the 
scriptures ; and thus we wish ourselves, our child- 
ren, and all who look up to us for guidance, to be 
instructed. Can you subscribe to these formularies ? 
Are you willing to come among us upon these prin- 
ciples, and, as our pastor, thus to break to us, and 
our little ones what we deem ' the bread of life ?' " 
Could the candidate complain of such a demand ? 
Many speak as if the church, in putting him to this 
test, undertook to "judge for him." But nothing 
can be more remote from the truth. They only 
undertake to judge for themselves. If the candid- 
ate cannot or will not accept of the test, he will be 
of course, nyected. But, in this case, no judgment 
is passed on his state toward God ; no ecclesiastical 


censure, not even the smallest, is inflicted upon him. 
The church only claim a right to be served in the 
ministerial office by a man who is of the same reli- 
gion with themselves. And is this an unreasonable 
demand ? Are not the rights of conscience recipro- 
cal ? Or do they demand, that, while a church shall 
be prohil)ited from " oppressing" an individual, an 
individual shall be allowed to " oppress" a church ? 
Surely it cannot l)e necessary to wait for an answer. 
Accordingly, the transactions of secular life, fur- 
nish every day a practical refutation of the objection 
which I am now considering. Does the head of a 
family, when a person ap[)lies to be received as a 
resident under his roof, ever doubt that he has a 
right to inquire whether the applicant be willing to 
conform to the rules of his family or not ; and if he 
decline this conformity, to refuse him admission ? 
And even after he has been received and tried, for a 
while, if he prove an uncomfortable inmate, does 
not every one consider the master of the family as 
at liberty to exclude him ? Has not every parent, 
and, of course, every voluntary association of pa- 
rents, an acknowledged right to determine what qua- 
lifications they will require in a preceptor for their 
children ; and, if so, to bring all candidates to the 
test agreed on, and to reject those who do not cor- 
respond with it ? And if a candidate who fell to- 
tally short of the qualifications required, and who, 
of course, was rejected, should make a great outcry, 
that he was "wantonly" and "tyrannicaHy" de- 
prived of the place to which he aspired, would not 
every one think him insajie, or worse than insane f 


The same principle applies to every voluntary asso- 
ciation, for moral, literary, or other lawful purposes. 
If the members have not a right to agree on what 
principles they will associate, and to refuse mem- 
bership to those who are known to be entirely hos- 
tile to the great object of the association, there is an 
end of all liberty. Of the self-evident truth of all 
this, no one doubts. But where is the essential dif- 
ference between any one of these rights, and the 
right of any community of professing christians to 
agree upon what they deem the scriptural principles 
of their own union ; and to refuse admission into 
their body of those whom they consider as unfriend- 
ly to the great purposes of truth and edification, for 
the promotion of which they associated ? To deny 
them this right, would be to make them slaves in- 

It will probably, however, be alledged, that a 
church cannot, properly speaking, be considered as a 
voluntary association ; that it is a community insti- 
tuted by the authority of Christ ; that its laws are 
given by Him, as its sovereign Head and Lord ; and 
that its rulers are in fact onlv stewards, bound to 
conform themselves in all that they do to his will ; 
that, if the church were their own, they would have 
a right to shut out from it whom they pleased ; but 
as it is Christ's, they must find some other rule of 
proceeding than their own volitions. This is, doubt- 
less, all true^ The church of Christ certainly cannot 
be regardea as a mere voluntary association, in the 
same sense in which many other societies are so 
called. It is the property of Christ. His will is the 


basis and the law of its establishment, and, of course, 
none can be either admitted or excluded but upon 
principles which his own word prescribes. Thisj 
/////» ^ however, it ioi^eonceived, does not alter "one jot or 
tittle," the spirit of the foregoing reasoning. The 
union of christians in a church state, must, still, 
from the nature of things, be a voluntary act; for if 
it were not so, it would not be a moral act at all. 
But if the union be voluntary, then those who form 
it, must certainly be supposed to have a right to fol- 
low their own convictions as to what their Divine 
Master has revealed and enjoined respecting the laws 
of their union. If i/ie^are not to judge in this mat- 
ter, who, I ask, is to judge for them? Has the Head 
of the Church, then, prescribed any qualifications as 
necessary for private membership, or for admission 
to the ministerial office, in his church? If so, what 
are they ? Will any degree of departure from the pu- 
rity of faith or practice, be sufficient to exclude a 
man ? If it will, to whom has our Lord committed 
the task of applying his law, and judging in any par- 
ticular case ? to the applicants or delinquents them- 
selves ; or to the church in which membership is de- 
sired ? If to the latter, on what principles is she 
bound to proceed ? As her members have voluntari- 
ly associated for their mutual instruction and edifica- 
tion in spiritual things, have they not a right to be 
satisfied that the individual who applies to be receiv- 
ed among them, either as a private member or minis- 
ter, entertains opinions, and bears a character, which 
will be consistent with the great object which they 
seek ? Can any such individual reasonably refuse 


to satisfy them as to the accordance of his religious 
sentiments with theirs, if they think that both the law 
of Christ, and the nature of the case, render such ac- 
cordance necessary to christian fellowship ? If he 
could not reasonably refuse to give satisfaction vev' 
bally on this subject; could he, with any more reason, 
refuse to stale his own sentiments in writing, and 
subscribe his name to that written statement ? Sure- 
ly to decline this, while he consented to give a verbal 
exhibition of his Creed, would wear the appearance 
of singular caprice or perverseness. B ut if no ration- 
al objection could be made to his subscribing a decla- 
ration, drawn up with his own hand, would it not be 
exactly the same thing, as to the spirit of the trans- 
action, if, with a view, simply, to ascertain the 


HIS CONSCIENCE, a Statement previously drawn up 
by the church herself, should be presented for his 
voluntary signature ? What is required of an indi- 
vidual in such case is, not that he shall believe 
what the church believes ; but simply that he shall 
declare, as a matter of fact, whether he does possess 
that belief, which, from his voluntary application to 
be received into christian fellowship with that 
church, he may be fairly presumed to possess. — 
Again, I ask, is it possible to deny a church this right, 
without striking at the root of all that is sacred in the 
convictions of conscience, and of all that is precious 
in the enjoyment of christian communion ? I fully 
grant, indeed, that, as her authority rests entirely on 
the declared will cf Christ, she has no right, in the 
sight of God, to propose to a candidate, any other 


than a sound orthodox Creed. She cannot possibly 
be considered as having a right, on this principle, to 
require his assent to anti-scriptural principles. Still, 
however, as the rights of conscience are unalienable ; 
and as every church must be considered, of course, as 
verily believing that she is acting according to her 
Master's will, we must concede to her the plenary 
right, in the sight of man, to require from those who 
would join her, a solemn assent to her formularies. 

But, perhaps, it will be asked, when a man has 
already become a member, or minister of a church, 
in virtue of a voluntary and honest subscription to 
her articles, and afterwards alters his mind ; — if he 
be excluded from her communion as a private mem- 
ber, or deposed from office as a minister, is not here 
« oppression ?" Is it not inflicting on a man a " heavy 
penalty" for his " opinions ;" " punishing" him for his 
*' sincere, conscientious convictions?" — I answer, if 
the Lord Jesus Christ has not only authorized, but 
solemnly commanded his church to cast the heretical, 
as well as immoral, out of her communion, -^nd 
wholly to withdraw her countenance from those 
who preach " another gospel ;"— then it is manifest, 
that the church, in acting on this authority, does no 
one any injury. In excluding a private member 
from the communion of a church, or deposing a 
minister from office, in the regular and scriptural ex- 
ercise of discipline, she deprives neither of any natu- 
ral right. It is only withdrawing that which was 
voluntarily asked, and voluntarily bestowed, and 
which might have been, without injustice, withheld. 
It is only practically saying—" You can no longer, 

consistently with our views, either of obedience to 
Christ, or of christian edification, be a minister or a 
member with us. You may be as happy and as use- 
ful as you can in any other connection ; but we must 
take away that authority and those privileges which 
we once gave you, and of which your further exer- 
cise AMONG us would be subversive of those princi- 
ples which we are solemnly pledged to each other 
to support." Is this language unreasonable ? Is the 
measure which it contemplates oppressive ? Would 
it be more just in itself, or more favourable to the 
rights of conscience, if any individual could retain 
his place as a teacher and guide in a church, contrary 
to its wishes ; to the subversion of its faith ; to the 
disturbance of its peace ; and finally, to the endan- 
gering of its existence ; and all this contrary to his 
own solemn engagements, and to the distinct under- 
standing of its members, when he joined them? 
Surely every friend of religious liberty would indig- 
nantly answer, No! Such a church would be the 
oppressed party, and such a member, the tyrant. 

The conclusion, then, is, that when a church 
makes use of a Creed in the manner that has been 
described ; as a bond of union ; as a barrier against 
what it deems heresy ; and in conformity with what 
it conscientiously believes to be the will of Christ ; 
it is so far from encroaching on the " rights" of 
others; so far from being chargeable with " oppres- 
sion;" — that it is really, in the most enlightened man- 
ner, and on the largest scale, maintaining the 
RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE ; and that for such a church, 
instead of doing this, to give up its own testimony 


to the truth and order of God's house ; to surrender 
its own comfort, peace, and edification for the sake 
of complying with the unreasonable demands of a 
corrupt individual, would be to subject itself to the 
worst of slavery. What is the subjugation of the 
many, with all their interests, rights, and happiness 
to the dictation of one, or a few, but the essence of 
tyranny r ■^-- -■* 

3. A third objection often urged against sub-^ 
scription to Creeds and Confessions is, that it is'i^' 
say the enemies of Creeds, " has once subscribed 
a public formulary, and taken his ecclesiastical stand 
with a church which requires it, he must continue 
so to believe to the end of life or resign his place ; 
new light in abundance may offer itself to his view ; 
but he must close his eyes against it. Now, can it 
be right, say they, for any one voluntarily to place 
himself in circumstances of so much temptation ; 
willingly to place himself within the reach of 
strong inducements to tamper with conscience, and 
to resist conviction ?" 'Ng^ 

In answer to this objection, my first remark is, ''^ 
that when a man takes on himself the solemn and 
highly responsible office of a public instructor of 
others, we must presume that he has examined the 
most important of the various Creeds, called christ- 
ian, with all the deliberation, sincerity, and prayer, 
of which he is capable, and that he has madaup his 
mind with respect to the leading doctrines of scrip- 
ture. To suppose any one capable of entering on 
the duties of the ministerial office while he is wav- 



ering and unsettled, and liable to be " carried about 
by every wind of doctrine," is to suppose him both 
weak and criminal to a very great degree. I know, 
indeed, that some ardent opposers of Creeds, consi- 
der a state of entire indecision with regard even to 
leading theological doctrines, as the most laudable 
and desirable stale of mind. They wish every man, 
not only to feel himself a learner to the end of life, 
which is undoubtedly right; but, also, if possible, 
to keep himself in that equilibrium of mind with 
respect to the most important doctrinal opinions, 
which shall amount to perfect indifference whether 
he retains or relinquishes his present sentiments. 
This they eulogize, as " openness to conviction," 
" freedom from prejudice," &c. Without stopping 
to combat this sentiment at large, I hesitate not to 
pronounce it unreasonable in itself; contrary to 
scripture ; and an enemy to all christian stability and 
comfort. We know what is said in the word of 
God, of those who are " ever learning, and never 
able to come to the knowledge of the truth." I 
repeat it, we must suppose him who undertakes to 
\j be a teacher of others, to be himself, as the apostle 
•* expresses it, " grounded and settled in the faith." 
We ought to be considered, then, as having all the 
security that the nature of the case admits, that he 
who comes forward as one of the lights and leaders 
of a religious community, is firm in the principles 
which he has professed, and will not be very apt, es- 
sentially, to alter his Creed. 

But further ; the same objection might be urged, 
/ with quite as much force, against a man's making 



ther by preaching, or by writing and printing; lest 
he should afterwards obtain more light, and yet be 
; tempted to adhere, contrary to his conscience, to 
I what he had before so publicly espoused. I But 
does any honest minister of the gospel think it his 
duty to forbear to preach, or otherwise to express 
his opinions, because it is possible he may afterwards 
change them ? We know that if the preacher of a 
Unitarian congregation should alter his views, and 
become orthodox, he must quit his place, give up 
his salary, and seek employment among his new 
connections. The same thing would happen, if a 
change the converse of this were to occur, and an 
orthodox preacher become a unitarian. What then ? 
Because an honest man, when he changes his mind 
on the subject of religion, will always hold himself 
in readiness to change his situation, and to make 
every necessary sacrifice, shall he, therefore, never 
venture to take any public station, lest he should not 
always think as he does at present ? 

There can be no doubt, that every public act, by 
/ which a man pledges himself, even as a private 
member, to any particular denomination of christ- 
ians, interposes some obstacle in the way of his af- 
terwards deserting that denomination, and unitmg 
himself with another^^ And, perhaps, it maybe said, 
the more delicate and honourable his mind, the more 
reluctant and shjw he will be to abandon his old con- 
nections, and choose new ones. So that such an 
one will really labour under a temptation to resist 
light, and remain where he is. But because this is 


so, shall a man, therefore, never join any church ; 
never take any step that will, directly or indirectly, 
pledge his religious Creed or character, lest he should 
afterwards alter his mind, and be constrained to 
transfer his relation to a different body, and thus be 
liable to find himself embarrassed by his former 
steps ? Upon this principle, we must go further, 
and adopt the doctrine, equally absurd and heathen- 
ish, that no parent ought ever to instruct his child in 
what he deems the most precious truths of the gos- 
pel, lest he should fill his mind with prejudices, and 
present an obstacle to free and unshackled inquiry 
afterwards. For there can be no doubt that early- 
parental instruction does present more or less obsta- 
cle, in the way of a subsequent change of opinion, 
on those subjects which that instruction embraced. 
Yet our Father in heaven has expressly commanded 
us to instruct our children, and to endeavour to pre- 
occupy their minds with every thing that is excellent, 
both in principle and practice. In short, if the ob- 
jection before us be valid, then no one ought ever 
to go forward in the discharge of any duty ; for he 
may one day cease to think it a duty ; in other words, 
he ought habitually, and upon principle, to disobey 
some of the plamest commands of God, lest he 
should afterwards entertain different views of those 
commands, from those whiih he at present enter- 
tains. Nay, if this be so, then every book a man 
reads, and every careful, deep inquiry he makes con- 
cerning the subject of it, must be considered as tend- 
ing to influence the mind, and to interfere with per- 
fect impartiality in any subsequent inquiry on the 


same subject; and therefore, ought to be for- 
borne ! 

No man in his senses acts thus. Especially, no 
christian allows himself thus to judge, or reason. 
In the path of what appears to be present duty, he 
feels bound to go forward, leaving future things with 
God. Now, if subscription to a correct Creed be 
really agreeable to the will of God ; if it be necessary, 
both to the purity and haruiony of the church ; and, 
therefore, in itself a duty ; then no man ought any 
more to hesitate about discharging this duty, than 
about discharging any of those duties which have 
been mentioned, or any others which may be sup- 
i posed.) There is no station in life in which its oc- 
cupant does not find some peculiar temptation. 
But if he be a man of a right spirit, he will meet 
it with christian integrity, and overcome it with 
christian courage. If he be a truly honest man, he 
will be faithful to his God, and faithful to his own 
conscience, at all hazards ; and if he be not honest, 
he will not be very likely to benefit the church by his 
discoveries and speculations. Accordingly, the voice 
of history confirms this reasoning. On the one 
hand, how many thousand instances have the last 
two centuries afforded, of men who were willing to 
incur, not only obloquy and reproach, but also beg- 
gary, imprisonment, and even death itself, in then- 
most frightful forms, rather than abandon the truth, 
and subscribe to formularies which they could not 
conscientiously adopt! On the other hand, how 
many instances have occurred, within the last fifty 
years, of unprincipled men, after solemnly subscrib- 


ing orthodox Creeds, disregarding their vows, and 
opposing tlie spirit of those Creeds, and still retain- 
ing tiieir ecclesiastical stations, without reserve ! It 
is plain, then, that this whole objection, though spe- 
cious, has not the least solidity. Truly upriglit and 
pious men will always follow their convictions; 
while, with regard to those of an opposite character, 
their light, whether they remain or depart, will be 
found to be of no value, either to themselves, or the 
church of God. 

4. A fourth objection frequently brought against 
Creeds is, that they have altogether failed of 

TENDED BY THEM.j " Churches," it is said, "which 
have Creeds the most carefully drawn, and of the 
most rigid character, are as far from being united in 
doctrinal opinions, as some which either have never 
had any Creeds at all, or have long since professedly 
omitted to enforce subscription to them. To men- 
tion only two examples ; the church of England, for 
nearly three centuries, has had a set of Articles de- 
cisively Calvinistic, to which all her candidates for 
the ministry are required to subscribe ; but we know 
that more than a hundred and fifty years have passed 
away, since Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian tenets be- 
gan to pollute that important branch of the reformed 
church ; and that within the last seventy-five or 
eighty years, almost every form of heresy has lurked 
under subscription to her orthodox Articles. And 
even the church of Scotland, which has had, for 
nearly two centuries, the most rigidly and minutely 
o) liiodox Confession on earth, is generally supposed, 


at this hour, to have a ministry far from being unan. 
mous in loving and honouring her public standards 
Now, if Creeds have not, in fact, been productive oi 
the great benefit intended by them, even in some t : 
the most favourable cases that can be produced, why 
be perplexed and burdened with them at all ?" 

This objection evidently proceeds on the princi 
pie, that a remedy which does not accomplish every 
things is worth nothing. Because Creeds have not 
completely banished dissension and discord from the 
churches which have adopted them, therefore they 
have been of no use. But is this sound reasoning ? 
Does it accord even with common sense, or with the 
dictates of experience in any walk of life ? Because 
the constitution of the United States has not com- 
pletely defended our country from all political ani- 
mosity and strife ; is it, therefore, worthless ? Or 
should we have been more united and harmonious 
without any constitutional provisions at all ? Be- 
cause the system of public law does not annihilate 
all crime, should we, of course, be as well without 
it ? No one will say this. Nay, may not the ob- 
jection be retorted on those who urge it ? They con- 
tend that Creeds are unnecessary ; that the Bible is 
amj)ly sufficient for all purposes, as a test of truth. 
But has the Bible banished dissension and discord 
from the church? No one will pretend that it has. 
Yet why not? Surely not on account of any error 
or defect in itself; but on account of the folly and 
perverseness of depraved man, who, amidst all the 
provisions of infinite wisdom and goodness, is con- 
tinually warring against the peace of the world. 


But I go further, and maintain that the history 
of the practical influence of Creeds, is strongly in 
their favour. Though they have not done every thing 
that could have been desired, they have done much ; 
and much in those very churches which have been 
most frequently selected as examples of their entire 
want of efficacy. The Calvinistic articles of the 
church of England were the means of keeping her 
doctrinally pure, to a very remarkable degree, for 
the greater part of a hundred years../ In the reign of 
James I, very few opponents of Calvinism dared 
publicly to avow their opinions ; and of those who 
did avow them, numbers were severely disciplined, 
and others saved themselves from similar treatment, 
by subsequent silence and discretion. The inroads 
of error, therefore, were very powerfully checked, 
and its triumph greatly retarded by those public 
standards. In fact, the great body of the bishops 
and clergy professed to be doctrinal Calvinists, until 
a number of years after the Synod of Dort, when, 
chiefly by the influence of Arch-Bishop Laud, and 
his creatures, Arminianism was gradually and guard- 
edly brought in, in consequence of which the faithful 
application of the thirty-nine articles, as a test of or- 
thodoxy, and of admission to the ministry, was dis- 
continued. The articles continued to speak as before, 
and to be solemnly subscribed ; but the spirit of the 
administration under them was no longer the same. 
It became predominantly Arminian. We may truly 
say, then, that the Creed of the church of England 
continued to operate eflectually as a bond of union, 
and a barrier against the encroachments of heresy, as 

61 „^:.m^ 

long as it is continued to be faithfully applied, agree- 
ably to its known original purport. When it ceased 
to be thus applied, it ceased to produce its wonted 
effect. But can this be reasonabl}'^ wondered at? 
As well might we wonder that a medicine, when its 
use was laid aside, should no longer heal. 

The very same representation, in substance, may 
be made concerning the church of Scotland. Her 
preeminently excellent Creed was the means, under 
God, of keeping her united and pure, as long as that 
Creed continued to be honestly employed as a test, 
according to its true intent and spirit. When this 
ceased to be the case, it would have been strange, 
indeed, if the state of things had remained as before. 
It did not so remain. With lax and dishonest sub- 
scription, heresy came in : — at first, with reserve and 
caution, but afterwards more openly. 1 But even to 
the present day, as all know fvlio are acquainted 
with the state of that church, the movements of 
heresy within her bosom, are held in most salutary 
check; and her condition is incomparably more fa- 
vourable than it could have been, had her public 
standards been long ago abolished. -^ 

Nor have the Creeds of those national churches 
of Great Britain yet accomplished all the benefits to 
the cause of truth and righteousness which they are 
destined to confer. Though their genuine spirit has 
been long since forgotten by many ; this is by no 
means2ie case with all. There has constantly been, 
in botli those churches, a body of faithful wifnesscs 
to the truth. This body, thanks to the Almighty 
and all-gracious King of Zion ! is increasing. Their 


J^'- good Confessions" form a rallying point, around 
which numbers are now gathering ; — and those far- 
farmed formularies, the favourable influence of 
which has been supposed by many to be long since 
exhausted, and more than exhausted, will again be- 
come, there is every reason to believe, an " ensign 
to the people," to which there shall be a flocking of 
those who love the " simplicity that is in Christ," 

j\ more extensive and more glorious than ever before. 

^"^■^Nor arc we without significant attestations to the 
% efficacy of Creeds, and to the mischief of being with- 
out them, in our own country. Of the former^ the 
Presbyterian church in the United States, is one of 
the most signal examples. Conflicts she has, indeed, 
had ; but they have been such as were incident to 
every community, ecclesiastical or civil, administered 
by the counsels of imperfect men. Amidst them all, 
she has, by the favour of her Divine Head, held on 
her way, substantially true to her system of doctrine 
and order; and though constituted, originally, by 
members from different countries, and of different 
habits, she has remained united to a degree, con- 
sidering all things, truly wonderful. Of the lattery 
the Congregational churches of Massachusetts, fur- 
nish a melancholy memorial. Though originally 
formed by a people, far more homogeneous in their 
character and habits, and far more united in their 
opinions ; yet, being destitute of any efficient bond of 
imion, and equally destitute of the means of main- 
taining it, if it had been possessed, they have fallen 

I a prey to dissension and error, to a degree, equally 

\ instructive and mournful. 


5. The last objection which I shall consider is, 
that subscription to Creeds, has not only failed en- 
tirely of producing the benefits contemplated by their 
friends ; but has rather been found to produce the 


STRIFE. ' " Creeds," say some, " instead of tending 
to compose differences, and to bind the members of 
churches more closely together, have rather proved 
a bone of contention, and a means of exciting mutual 
charges of heresy, and a thousand ill feelings, among 
those who might have been otherwise perfectly har- 

/- In reply to this objection, my first remark is, 
/ that the alleged fact, which it takes for granted, is 
^^ utterly denied.^ It is not true that Creeds have 
generated contention and strife in the bosom of those 
churches which have adopted them. On tlie con- 
trary, it would be easy to show, by an extended in- 
duction of facts, that in those churches in which 
Creeds and Confessions have been most esteemed 
and most regarded, there union and peace have 
most remarkably reigned. In truth, it has ever been 
the ivant of faithful regard to such formularies, that 
has led to division and strife in the church of Christ. 
I doubt whether any denomination of christians ever 
existed, for half a century together, destitute of a 
public Creed, however united and harmonious it 
might have been, at the commencement of this pe- 
riod ; without exhibiting, before the end of it, either 
that stillness of death, which is the result of cold 
indifference to the truth : or that miserable scene of 


discord, in which "parting asunder" was the only 
means of escaping from open violence. 

My next remark is, that, even if it were shown, 
that orthodox public Creeds are often indirectly con- 
nected with conflict and contention in the church ; 
it would form no solid argument against them. Ar- 
dent attachment to what they deemed truth, is the 
principle, in all ages, which has led christian com- 
munities to adopt Creeds and Confessions of Faith. 
The same attachment to truth will naturally lead 
them to watch with care against every thing that is 
hostile to it; and to "contend earnestly" in its de- 
fence, when it is attacked. In this case, a Creed, 
supposing it to be a sound and scriptural one — is no 
more the cause of conflict and division, than a whole- 
some medicine is the cause of that disease which it 
is intended to cure./ The word of God commands 
us to "contend," and to "contend earnestly, for the 
faith once delivered to the saints," and to hold him 
"accursed," who preaches "another gospel" than 
that which the scriptures reveal. But when such 
" contention" becomes necessary, who is to blame 
for it? Surely not truth, or its advocates; but those 
who patronize error, and thus endeavour to corrupt 
the body of Christ ; and, of course, render contention 
for the truth a duty. It is granted, indeed, that, in 
this conflict, much unhallowed temper may be mani- 
fested. Not only on the part of the advocates of 
{ rror-; ,but also, in some degree, on the part of the 
friends of truth. They may contend, even for the 
truth, with bigotry and bitterness. Still, this does 


not render the truth itself less precious ; or the duty 
of contending for it less imperative ; or those sum- 
maries of it which christians have been led to form, 
less valuable, as testimonies for God. 
j^' Before Christianity was preached in the Roman 
empire, the different classes of Pagans lived together 
in peace. The foundation of this peace was, the 
opinion, that error was innocent ; and that all classes 
of religionists were equally safe. But when the re- 
ligion of Jesus Christ was preached ; when his 
ministers proclaimed that there was no other system 
either true or safe ; that there was no other founda- 
tion of hope ; that all false religions were not only 
highly criminal, but also eternally destructive ; and 
that the followers of Christ could not possibly counte- 
nance any of them ; — then a scene of the most shock- 
ing persecution and violence, on the part of the Pa- 
gans, commenced. But on what, or on whom, are we 
to throw the blame, for these scenes of violence ? No 
one, surely, will say, on Christianity. We are rather 
to impute it to the corruption of human nature, and 
\to the blindness and violence of Pagan malice. If 
tiie primitive christians had been willing to give up 
the precious truth committed to them, and to act 
upon the principle, that all modes of faith were 
equally safe ; they might have escaped much, if not 
the whole, of the dreadful persecution which they 
were called to endure. 

The only additional remark, therefore, -which 1 
have to make on the objection before us, is, that it 
can have no force, excepting upon the principle, that 


error ought to be left unassailed, and that contention 
for the truth is not a duty : — for all defence of the 
truth, against its active opposers — all " contending 
for the truth," must, of course, disturb that cold and 
death-like tranquility which indifference to the pu- 
rity of faith tends to introduce. We are command- 
ed, "if it be possible, as much as lieth in us, to live 
peaceably with all men." But it is not " possible'* 
to be at peace with some men. We inust not be at 
peace with error or wickedness. The Divine au- 
thority makes it our duty to oppose them to the ut- 
most, at our peril. And if in the discharge of this 
duty, the peace of the church is, for a time, disturb- 
ed, the sin lies at the door of those who rendered the 
conflict necessary. Those summaries of truth, which 
particular occasions make it important to embody 
and to publish, are no more to blame for the struggle, 
than the wise and wholesonie law of the land is to 
blame for that agitation which necessarily attends 
the seizure, the trial, and the execution of a male- 

But for further details on this subject, both for 
and against the doctrine which I maintain, I must 
refer you to those works which have been devoted to 
its more extended discussion : more particularly to 
what is said by the judicious and excellent Mr. Dun- 
lop, in the able Preface to his ^'' Collection of Con- 
fessions ;" to " The Confessional,'^'' by Mr. Blackburn, 
one of the most zealous and formidable opposers of 
Creeds ; which will prepare you for perusing some 
of the best of the many valuable Answers to that far- 


famed work : to " Walker's Vindication of the Church 
of Scotland,''^ he: and, finally, to Mr. Dyer^s ^^ Inquiry 
into the nature of subscription to Articles of religion.''^ 

The subject, beloved Pupils, on which I have been 
addressing you, is eminently a practical one. It en- 
ters deeply into many questions of personal and 
official duty. I shall, therefore, detain you a few 
moments longer, by calling your attention to some of 
those PRACTICAL INFERENCES fi'om the foregoing 
principles and reasonings, which appear to me to de- 
serve vour serious regard — and 

1. From the representation which has been given, 
we may see how little reason any have to be 


There is something so perfectly visionary and 
unreasonable in the very thought of "tyranny," or 
"oppression," as connected with subscription to 
Creeds, in this country, that the only wonder is, how 
it can be admitted, for a moment, into any sober 
mind. Who does or can impose a Creed upon any 
one, or ever attempts to do it ? Is any man in the 
United States, obliged to profess any belief; to 
subscribe any Creed ; or to join any church what- 
ever ? Every man, indeed, is bound by the law of 
God, to believe correctly, and to connect himself 
with a pure church. He is not, and cannot be at 
liberty, in the sight of Jehovah, to neglect cither. 
But is any man bound by human law, ecclesiasti- 
cal or civil, to do any of these thmgs ? Is any man 
jn the United States, after he has subscribed a 


Creed, and joined a church, obliged, by any human 
authority, to adhere to either a single day longer 
than he pleases ? Is he not at perfect liberty to 
withdraw, at any moment, and that with or without 
giving a reason for his conduct, as he thinks proper? 
Everlasting thanks to Him who gives us this free- 
dom ! May it be perpetual and universal ! Now, 
one would think, this is liberty enough to satisfy any 
reasonable man. But it seems there are really those 
who wish for more, They demand, in effect, that 
the church should be willing to take all manner of 
heresy, as well as orthodoxy, to her bosom, and to 
act as if she regarded both with an equal eye. 
Nay, they ask that heretics be freely allowed to im- 
pose THEMSELVES upou HER, whether she be wil- 
ling or not — not to unite and edify her members, 
but to divide and distract them ; — that they be at 
liberty to come into the Redeemer's family, and 
there, without any regard to its scriptural rules, or 
its happy harmony, to propagate such discordant 
sentiments, and to establish such new principles of 
order, or disorder, as the intruders may choose to 
adopt. But is this christian liberty ? Is this a kind 
of liberty which any benevolent, or even honest man 
would wish to possess ? It is liberty, truly, of the 
most extraordinary kind, to the individual who in- 
trudes ; but what becomes of the liberty of the ec- 
clesiastical body which he thus enters, contrary to its 
wishes and comfort, and to its real injury ? It is, evi- 
dently, the same sort of privilege in the church, as 
the privilege of invading the retreat of private fami- 
lies, or disturbing the peace of civil society, at pleas- 


ure, and with impunity, would be regarded by tho 
inhabitants of any free country. 

2 We may see, from what has been said, that 
subscribing a church Creed, is not a mere formality ; 

TIONS. It is certainly a transaction which ought to 
be entered upon with much deep deliberation and 
humble prayer ; and in which, if a man be bound to 
be sincere in any thing, he is bound to be honest to 
his God, honest to himself, and honest to the church 
which he joins. For myself, I know of no transac- 
tion, in which insincerity is more justly chargeable 
with the dreadful sin of " lying to the Holy Ghost 
than in this. It is truly humiliating and distressing 
to know, that in some churches it has gradually be- 
come customary, to consider Articles of Faith as 
merely Articles of peace; in other words, as articles 
which he who subscribes, is not considered as pro- 
fessing to BELIEVE ; but as merely engaging not to 
OPPOSE-at least in any public or offensive manner. 
Whether we bring this principle to the test of rea- 
son, of scripture, of the original design of Creeds, or 
of the ordinary import of language among honoura- 
ble men;-it seems equally liable to the severest 
reprobation, as disreputable and criminal in a very 
high degree. Nor does it appear to me to be any 
alleviation, either of the disgrace or the sin, that 
many of the governors of the churches referred to, 
as well as of those who subscribe, public^ avow 
their adoption of this principle; admit the correct- 
ness of it; keep each other in countenance; and 


thus escape, as lliey imagine, the charge of hypocri- 
sy. What would be thought of a similar principle, 
if generally adopted and avowed, with respect tg the 
administration of oaths in civil courts ? Suppose both 
jurors and witnesses, feeling it ai grievance to be 
bound by their oaths to speak the truth, were to agree 
among themselves, and openly to give out, that they 
did not mean, when they swore, to take on them- 
selves any such obligation ; that they did not so un- 
derstand the import of their oaths, and did not intend 
to recognize any such meaning ? And suppose the 
judges were freely to admit them to their oaths with 
a similar understanding ? Would a witness or a ju- 
ror, in such a case, be exempt from the charge of 
PERJURY, or the judge from the guilt of suborna- 
tion OF PERJURY ? I presume not, in the estima- 
tion of any sober-minded man. If it were otherwise, 
then bad men, who form a majority of every com- 
munity, might, by combining, violate all the princi- 
ples of virtue and order, not only with impunity, but 
also without sin. 

Set it down, then, as a first principle of common 
honesty, as well as of christian truth, that subscrip- 
tion to Articles of Faith, is a weighty transaction, 
which really means what it professes to mean ; that 
no man is ever at liberty to subscribe articles which 
he does not truly and fully believe ; and that, in 
subscribing, he brings himself under a solemn, cove- 
nant engagement to the church which he enters, to 
walk with it "in the unity of faith," and "in the 
bond of peace and love.'' If he cannot do this 
honestly, let him not profess to do it at all. I see 


not but that here, insincerity, concealment, double 
dealing, and mental reservations, are, to say the 
least, quite as mean and base as they can be in the 
transactions of social and civil life. 

You will, perhaps, ask me, what shall be done 
by a man who loves the Presbyterian church ; who 
considers it as appproaching nearer to the scriptural 
model than any other with which he is acquainted ; 
who regards its Confession of Faith as by far the 
best, in its great outlines, and in all its fundamental 
articles, that he knows ; and who yet, in some of its 
minor details, cannot entirely concur ? Can such an 
one honestly subscribe, without any previous expla- 
nation of his views? I answer — by no means. 
Ought he, then, you will ask, to abandon all thoughts 
of uniting himself with our church, when he is in 
cordial harmony with it in all fundamental princi- 
ples, and nearer to it, in all respects, than to any 
other church on earth? I again answer — by no 
means. I know of no other mode of proceeding in 
such a case as this, which christian candour, and a 
pure conscience will justify, than the following : Let 
the candidate for admission unfold to the Presbytery 
before which he presents himself, all his doubts and 
scruples, with perfect frankness; — opening his whole 
heart, as if on oath ; and neither softening nor con- 
cealing any thing. Let him cause them distinctly 
to understand, that if he subscribe the Confession of 
Faith, he must be understood to do it in consistency 
with the exceptions and explanations which he spe- 
cifies. If the Presbytery, after this fair understand- 
ing, should be of the opinion, that the excepted 


points were of little or no importance, and interfered 
with no article of faith, and should be willing to re- 
ceive his subscription in the usual wa}, he may 
proceed. Such a method of proceeding will best 
accord with every principle of truth and honour ; 
and will remove all ground of either self-reproach, or 
of reproach on the part of others, afterwards. 

3. From the view which has been presented of 
this subject, we may decide how an honest man 


CREED. He will feel it to be his duty to adhere sin- 
cercely and faithfully to that Creed, in public and in 
private ; and to make it his study to promote, by all 
the means in his power, the peace and purity of the 
body with which he has connected himself. And if 
he should, at any time, alter his views concerning 
any part of the Creed or order of the church in ques- 
tion, it will be incumbent on him to inquire, whether 
the points, concerning which he has altered his mind, 
are of such a nature as that he can conscientiously 
BE SILENT concerning them, and "give no offence" 
to the body to which he belongs. If he can recon- 
cile this with an enlightened sense of duty, he may 
REMAIN, IN PEACE. But, if the poiuts concerning 
which his views have undergone a change, are of so 
much importance in his estimation, as that he cannot 
be silent^ but must feel himself bound to publish, and 
endeavour to propagate them; then let him peacea- 
bly WITHDRAW, and join some other branch of the 
visible church, with which he can walk harmonious- 
ly. Such he may find almost every where, unless 
his views be singularly eccentric. But, at any rate. 

he has no more right to insist on remaining, and be- 
ing permitted publicly to oppose, what he has 
solemnly vowed to receive and support; than a mem- 
ber of any voluntary association, which he entered 
under certain engagements, but with which he no 
longer agrees, has a right obstinately to retain his 
connection with it, and to avail himself of the influ- 
ence which this connection gives him, to endeavour 
to tear it in pieces. 

It is no solid objection to this view of the subject, 
to allege, that every man is under obligations to 
obey the great Head of the Church, altogether pa- 
ramount to those which bind him, in virtue of any 
ecclesiastical engagements, to obey the church her- 
self. This is most readily granted. No man can 
lawfully bind himself to disobey Christ, in any case 
whatever. But this principle, it is conceived, has 
nothing to do with the point under consideration. 
Though a man cannot properly bind himself always 
to believe as he now believes ; nor always to remain 
in connection with the ecclesiastical body which he 
now joins ; yet he may safely promise that he will 
be a regular and orderly member of the body, as long 
as he does remain in connection with it. When he 
ceases to be able to do this, without sinning against 
God, he will, if he be an honest man, immediately 
withdraw. If he remain, and suffer himself habitu- 
ally to violate his engagement, under the pretence of 
benefiting the body to which he has vowed alle- 
giance, he will be chargeable with the sin of treache- 
rously and basely "doing evil that good may come." 
To illustrate my meaning by a familiar example. 


Every student of this Seminary has, at his entrance, 
made a solemn promise, that, "as long as he shall 
continue a member of it, he will conscientiously and 
vigilantly observe all the rules and regulations speci- 
fied in the plan for its instruction and government, 
so far as the same relate to the students ; and fur- 
ther, that he will obey all the lawful requisitions of 
the Professors and Directors," k.c. As this engage- 
ment was voluntarily made, no honest man will 
doubt that you are all bound to act in conformity 
with it, to the utmost tittle, as far as you have abili- 
ty. Suppose, however, that one of your number 
should become persuaded, that some of the "regula- 
tions specified in the plan" of the Seminary, are not 
only unwise, and inconvenient, but also immoral; 
what ought he to do? Ought he to remain in the 
institution, and habitually violate the regulations to 
which he excepted, pleading that he could not con- 
scientiously obey them, because, though he had so- 
lemnly engaged to do so, he felt himself under a 
prior and paramount obligation to " obey God rather 
than man ?" This, surely, no christian would ap- 
prove, nor any faithful government tolerate. No ; 
every principle of honour and integrity would dictate, 
that he should immediately loiihdraw from the Semi- 
nary; and if, after withdrawing, he should be able 
to convince the General Assembly of our church, 
that his exceptions were just, and should prevail 
with that body to alter the offensive rules ; then, 
and not till then, he might, with a good conscience, 
resume his place in the institution. 

4. We are led to reflect, from the representation 


which has been given, how easy it is for a single 


Such an one, especially if he be a man of talents 
and influence, by setting himself, either openly or 
covertly, against the public standards of his church ; 
by addressing popular feeling, and availing himself 
of popular prejudice ; may do more, in a short time, 
to prepare the way for fatal error, than all his useful- 
ness, though multiplied a hundred fold, would be 
able to countervail. Ministers, my young Friends, 
may be said to hold in their hands the interests of the 
church, to a degree which no other class of men do ; 
and which ought to make them tremble under a 
sense of their responsibility ! Such as is the charac- 
ter of the MINISTRY of any particular church, will 
be, generally speaking, the character of the church 
ITSELF. On the one hand, if the ministers of reli- 
gion be generally enlightened, orthodox, holy, dili- 
gent, and faithful men, the church to which they be- 
long, will never fail to display the influence of this 
character in happy results. On the other hand, never 
was the church, in any country or age, corrLij)ted, 
divided, and ruined, but the mischief was done 
BY ITS MINISTERS. Howcver humiliating or pain- 
ful this assertion may be, it is undoubtedly confirm- 
ed by all scripture, and all experience. And as the 
general influence of the clerical character is so vital; 
so it is not easy to measure the mischief that may 
be done by one unsound, graceless, imprudent, tur- 
bulent minister. If, in every walk of society, " one 
sinner destroyeth much good," how much more 


wide-spread, deplorable, and fatal is the mischief, 
when the criminal individual is a minister ! By erro- 
neous opinions ; by corrupt habits ; by a love of inno- 
vation ; by embracing himself, and extensively im- 
parting to others, pernicious delusions ; — he may do 
more in jive or ten years, to agitate, divide, corrupt, 
and weaken the church, than, perhaps, a score of the 
most faithful ministers in the land, can do, humanly 
speaking, for promoting its purity and peace, in half 
a century. The influence of two or three individu- 
als, of popular talents, in Massachusetts ^ more than 
fifty years ago, in gradually undermining orthodoxy, 
and in reconciling the public mind to heretical opin- 
ions, is as well known, as it is deeply deplored, by 
many who are acquainted with the ecclesiastical his- 
tory of New-England. The authors of this mis- 
chief have long since gone to their account; but 
their works have survived them ; and of their awful 
ravages, no one can estimate the extent, or see the 

Beloved Pupils ! be it your study, at all times, to 
cherish a deep sense of your solemn responsibility to 
God and his church. In a little while, you will be 
among those to whom the most weighty interests 
that can be committed to man, will be entrusted. Be 
faithful to your high trust. Guard, with the utmost 
vigilance, the church's orthodoxy. Nothing can be 
truly right, where her doctrinal principles are essen- 
tially wrong. But, O, think not that mere frigid 
orthodoxy, however perfect, is all that is needed. 
Labour to diffuse, in every direction, the holy and 
benign influence of truth. If "the household of 


faith" be corrii}Dtefl by heresy, or torn by schism, or 
agitated by unhallowed innovation, or become cold 
through want of ministerial faithfulness — see to it, 
that none of you be found among the workers of 
the mischief. See to it that you seek unceasingly, 
not " your own things" — your own aggrandizement 
— ^your own fancies — or your own speculations — but 
" the things which are Je'sus Christ's." If you can- 
not benefit the church, (and no man has a right to 
say that he cannot, if he have a heart for the pur- 
pose) at least, do not lend your influence to the un- 
hallowed work of corrupting and dividing it. And 
if you should ever be brought into circumstances in 
which you can do nothing else, see that you be 
found, like the " ministers of the Lord" of old — 
" weeping between the porch and the altar, and say- 
ing, spare thy people, O, Lord, and give not thine 
heritage to reproach ; save them, and lift them up 
forever !" 

5. We may infer, from what has been said, the 
duty and importance of all the members, and espe- 
cially the ministers, of the Presbyterian church, ex- 
erting themselves to spread a knowledge of heh 
PUBLIC STANDARDS. I Say, her ^^ public standards,^^ 
notwithstanding all the sneer and censure which 
have been cast on this language. For every intelli- 
gent and candid man in the community, knows that 
we employ it to designate, — not formularies which 
we place above the Bible ; but simply those which 
ascertain and set forth how we interpret the Bible. 
These formularies— if they be really an epitome of 
the word of God — and surely we think them so — 



every minister is bound to circulate, with unwearied 
assiduity, among the people of his charge. This is 
so far, in general, from being faithfully done, that I 
seriously doubt whether there be a Protestant church 
in Christendom, in which there is so striking a defect 
as to the discharge of this duty, especially in some 
parts of the country, as in the Presbyterian church. 
Our Episcopal brethren exercise a most laudable 
diligence in placing the volume which contains their 
articles, forms and offices, in every family within 
their reach, which belongs to their communion, or 
can be considered as tending tow ards it. Our Me- 
thodist and Baptist brethren, with no less diligence, 
do the same, with respect to those books which exhi- 
bit the doctrines and order of their respective deno- 
minations. All this is as it should be. It bespeaks 
men sincere in their belief, and earnest in the dissem- 
ination of ^^ hat they deem correct principles ? Why 
is it that so many ministers of the Presbyterian 
church, with a Confession of Faith, and Catechisms, 
"which, I verily believe, and which the most of them 
readily acknowledge, are by far the best that were 
ever framed by uninspired wisdom • and with a form 
of Government and Discipline more consentaneous 
with apostolical practice than that of any other 
church on earth ; are yet so negligent, not to say so 
indifferent, as to the circulation of these formula- 
ries ? They, perhaps, do not take the trouble even 
to inquire whether there be a copy of the volume 
which contains them, in every family, or even in 
every neighbourhood, of their respective charges. 
How are we to accoiuit for the peculiar frequency 


of this negligence in the ministry of ;our church ? It 
would be far from being true, I trust, to say, that 
our clergy are more unfaithful in the general dis- 
charge of their duties, than those of any other com- 
munion. May we not rather ascribe the fact in 
question to another fact, from which it might be ex- 
pected naturally to arise ? The fact to which I al- 
lude is, that, in the Presbyterian church, at the pre-' 
sent day, and in this country — whatever may have 
been the case in former times — there is less of sec- 
tarian feeling; less of what is called, the espjit du 
corps, than in any other ecclesiastical body among 
us. We are, in truth, if I do not mistake, so exces- 
sively free from it, as to be hardly ready to defend 
ourselves when attacked. We are so ready to fra- 
ternize with all evangelical denominations, that we- 
almost forget that we have a denomination of our 
own, to which we are peculiarly attached. Now, 
this general spirit is undoubtedly excellent ; worthy 
of constant culture, and the highest praise. But 
may it not be carried to an extreme ? Universal, 
active benevolence, is a christian duty ; but when the 
liead of a family, in the ardour of its exercise, feels 
no more concern or responsibility respecting his own 
household, than he does about the households of 
others ; he acts an unreasonable part, and, what is 
worse, disobeys the com.mand of God. Something 
analagous to this, I apprehend, is the mistake of that 
christian, or that minister, who, in the fervour of his 
Catholicism, loses sight of the fact, that God, in his 
providence, has connected him with a particular 
branch of the visible church, the welfare and cdiii- 


cation of which he is peculiarly bound to seek. If 
his own branch of the church have any thing of pe- 
culiar excellence in his estimation, on account of 
which he prefers it, — which is always to be suppos- 
ed — can it be wrong for him to desire that others 
should view it in the same light ? And if he be justi- 
fiable in recommending these peculiarities from the 
pulpit — as all allow — is he not equally justifiable in 
recommending them from the press, especially by 
means of accredited publications ? 

Happy will it be for our church, then, if her fu- 
ture ministry shall be more attentive to the duty in 
question, than many of those who have gone before 
them. To you, beloved Candidates for the sacred 
office, let me recommend a sacred regard to this du- 
ty. Resist, always, to the utmost of your power, 
the littleness of sectarian bigotry, and strive to ban- 
ish it from the church. But, at the same time, che- 
rish among her members an enlightened attachment 
to that particular branch of the family of Christ in 
which their lot is cast. For this purpose strive to 
promote among them a general and intimate ac- 
quaintance with our Confession of JFaith, and form 
of Government and Discipline, as Avell as our Cate- 
chisms, which latter, I fain would hope, are not en- 
tirely neglected in any part of the church. Never 
advise the people to take the contents of these pub- 
lic formularies on trust ; but diligently to compare 
every part of them with scripture, and see how 
far they agree with the unerring standard. Thus 
will you be likely to become instrumental in form- 
ing solid, intelligent christians. Thus may you 


hope to become the spiritual fathers of multitudes, 
"whose faith shall stand, not in the wisdom of men, 
but in the power of God." 

6. Once more; if the foregoing principles be 
just, then how unhappy is the mistake of those who 
imagine, that, by abandoning all creeds and 


CHURCH AN ESSENTIAL SEiivicE ,* to build her up 
more extensively and gloriously than ever! There 
are those who imagine that a new order of things is 
about to open on the church, amounting to as great 
a change of dispensation as ever marked the progress 
of the Redeemer's kingdom, in any preceding age. 
In this new and undefined prospect, they seem to 
themselves to see the approaching prostration of 
most of those fences, and the dissolution of most of 
those ties, which have heretofore been regarded as 
indispensable to the maintenance of unity and har- 
mony in the family of Christ. I shall only say, that 
it will be time enough to provide for this new order 
of things when it shall arrive ; and that, in the mean 
while, in the present state of the world, I should as 
soon think of extending and edifying the church, by 
laying aside all the means of grace ; as of promoting 
its purity and peace, by abandoning those methods 
of binding its members together, which have been 
found necessary ever since the days of the Apostles. 
The apostle Peter thus exhorted the christians in 
his day — "Be sober, be vigilant, because your ad- 
versary, the Devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, 
seeking whom he may devour." And another Apos- 
tle, reminded those to whom he wrote, that this ad- 


versary oftentimes "transformed himself into an 
angel of light." So it was eighteen centuries ago; 
and so it is at this hour. The very blessings of the 
church, as they have been in all ages, so they are 
now, converted into means of deception. The pro- 
gressive harmony of the different evangelical denomi- 
nations ; their increasing zeal for the spread of the 
gospel ; their growing disposition to sacrifice many 
smaller differences on the altar of our common 
Christianity ; — have so fired the imaginations of some 
ardent, sanguine spirits, that they have allowed 
themselves to be hurried on to the unwarranted 
conclusion, that all former rules were about to 
be laid aside, and all former barriers to be broken 
down. But remember, my young Friends, that 
a similar notion has been entertained, and after- 
wards abandoned, in almost every century since the 
incarnation of Christ. Remember, too, that even 
when the Millennimn shall arrive, human nature 
will still be depraved, and will still stand in need of 
law and regulatio?}, not, perhaps, as Qnuch, but as 
really as now. And, finally, remember that, before 
that blessed day shall actually dawn upon our world, 
we shall probably have many a sore conflict with 
the enemies of truth, and stand in need of all those 
methods of distinguishing and binding together its 
friends, to which the word of God, and uniform ex- 
perience have so long given their sanction. 

While I exhort you, tlien, to hail with delight the 
spirit of harmony, of union, and of active co-opera- 
tion, which is among the most precious and anima- 
ting "signs of the times" in which we live: and 


while I earnestly hope that no student of this Semi- 
nary will ever stand afar off, or turn away with an 
evil eye, when the true standard of Christ is raised 
by any denomination ; let me, at the same time, 
entreat you, always to temper your zeal with sober- 
ness. I say SOBERNESS ; for this is a quality, not 
always found associated even with great vigor of 
talent, and great warmth of piety. Many a man of 
admirable endowments in other respects ; endow- 
ments which qualified him, if they had been happily 
directed, to adorn and bless the church ; has been 
either so transported by the visions of a heated fancy ; 
or so deceived by keeping his eye fixed on a single 
point only of the vast scene before him ; or so im- 
pelled by the approaches of others, as anomalous as 
himself; that, like the comet of the infidel philoso- 
pher, he has only been able to strike off a few wan- 
dering stars from the parent luminary, while he him- 
self, given up to an orbit more and more eccentric, 
never returned, either to regularity or usefulness. 
The church is still "in the wilderness;" and 
every age has its appropriate trials. Among those 
of the present day, is a spirit of restless innovation ; 
a disposition to consider every thing that is new, 
as of course an improvement. Happy are they, 
who, taking the word of God for their guide, and 
walking in "the footsteps of the flock," continu- 
ally seek the purity, the peace, and the edifica- 
tion of the Master's family : — ^Who, listening with 
more respect to the unerring Oracle, and to the so- 
ber lessons of christian experience, than to the de- 
lusions of fashionable error ; hold on their way, 


"turning neither to the right hand nor the left," and 
considering it as their highest honour and happiness 
to be employed as humble, peaceful instruments in 
building up that "kingdom which is not meat and 
drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the 
Holy Ghost!" May God grant to each of us this 
best of all honours ! And to his Name be the praise, 
forever! Amen!